Western Kentucky University baseball 2018
Courtesy WKU Athletics

Former WKU Baseball lefty Ryan Thurston signed an undrafted free agent deal

with the Toronto Blue Jays organization on Sunday. The Madison, Ind., native will report to the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla.

Upon signing with Toronto, Thurston became the 109th Hilltopper player to sign a professional contract.

WKU has had three pitchers drafted by the Blue Jays; lefty Evan Teague in 2009 (35th round), righty Steve Marr in 1991 (40th round) and righty Daren Kizziah in 1989 (37th round). Teague appeared in 22 games in the minor league in the fall of 2009, while Kizziah pitched 405.1 innings across a five-year minor-league career from 1989-93. Marr did not sign.

In five years on The Hill, Thurston left his mark on the all-time Hilltopper charts, ranking second in program history with 299 strikeouts, third with 52 games started and fifth with 306.2 innings pitched. He started 14 games in each of his final three seasons at WKU, settling in as the Friday night pitcher midway through the 2016 campaign.

As a senior, Thurston pitched a career-high 80.2 innings while allowing a career-low 15 extra-base hits. He finished the season with a 4.24 ERA, although that mark stood at 3.08 prior to his final two starts. The lefty was the only pitcher in Conference USA to secure wins over both Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.

Thurston spun six innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts on April 7 to defeat the No. 15 Golden Eagles, then pitched a season-high eight frames of one-run ball with nine punchouts on April 27 in the Hilltoppers’ victory over the Bulldogs. He also had starts at Memphis, vs. West Virginia and vs. Bowling Green in which he went five-plus frames with only one earned run allowed.

In 2017, Thurston tallied 25 strikeouts in back-to-back wins over Ohio and Illinois State in early March. After notching 11 punchouts vs. the Bobcats, the lefty came back a week later for a career-high 14 against the Redbirds. The 14 strikeouts marked a WKU single-game best with program records dating back to 2005, surpassing the old mark of 13 by Matt Hightower on April 10, 2009 vs. New Orleans.

Thurston led WKU with 77.1 innings pitched, four wins and 93 strikeouts during the campaign. His 93 punchouts tied Matt Ridings’ 2009 year for ninth all-time in a single season in program history, while the mark ranked fifth among Conference USA pitchers in 2017.

In 2016, Thurston’s best performance came vs. FIU on April 30, where he threw a program-record 10 scoreless innings with a then-career-high 11 strikeouts, compared to only one walk. For his effort, he was named Conference USA Pitcher of the Week, the first WKU player to earn the honor in the newly-joined league.

Thurston burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2014, when he pitched eight no-hit innings on April 16 at No. 18 Indiana. It was future All-American and fourth overall pick in the MLB Draft, Kyle Schwarber, who finally got the first Hoosier hit against the lefty to lead off the ninth frame, as Thurston was left with a no-decision in WKU’s eventual 1-0 loss in 10 innings.

How to Follow the Hilltoppers: For complete information on WKU Hilltopper Baseball, follow the program via social media @WKUBaseball on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram & Facebook.

Bryan Fyalkowski
Assistant Director of Media Relations
WKU Hilltopper Athletics


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