In the 100th season of WKU Baseball, it looks like Jake Sanford is determined to put his name in the record books among the storied Hilltoppers from the first 99 teams.
The junior right fielder from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, continued his hitting tear with three homeruns and eight runs batted in on Tuesday night, leading WKU to a 12-9 victory at Eastern Kentucky.
Sanford became the first Hilltopper since at least 2005 (when game-by-game records are available) to drive in eight runs, the first to hit three homeruns since Jordan Newton against Wisconsin-Milwaukee on March 19, 2006, and only the fifth in the past 15 years with 12 total bases.
He is only the 13th player in Division I to hit three homeruns in a game so far this season.
Along with a 3-for-5 performance with two three-run homeruns, one double, five runs scored and seven batted in Sunday’s 15-1 run-rule victory at FIU, Sanford has gone 6-for-11 with five homeruns, nine runs scored and 15 batted in over his past two games. That’s a slash line of .545/.545/2.000 while accounting for 19 of the Hilltoppers’ 27 runs scored.
Sanford now has 12 homeruns and 35 runs batted in on the season, with all 12 homeruns and 27 of those runs batted in over the past 15 games. Since the calendar turned to March, he has posted a .356/.424/1.017 slash line, although his .313/.395/.531 slash line in February is nothing to ignore.
Entering Tuesday’s slate of games, Hunter Bishop of Arizona State led Division I baseball with 14 homeruns, with Sanford now matching the three players trailing him who are tied for second at 12. Overall, his 35 runs batted in would tie for seventh in the nation, while his .846 slugging percentage would rank eighth.
WKU trailed 5-2 after four before Sanford hit his first homerun of the day — a towering solo shot to right-center field off EKU starter Jacob Ferris in the top of the fifth — to push his season total to 10 and bring the team within 5-3.
In the bottom of that frame, the Colonels looked to add a crooked number after loading the bases with zero outs against Hilltopper reliever Collin Lollar. But Kevin Lambert had other ideas.
The shortstop slid to the six-hole to backhand a ground ball by Daniel Harris IV and turn it into a 6-4-3 double play. Although a run scored in the process, WKU got two outs on the board, and then a third when Lambert dove to field the next ground ball — this time hit to his left, up the middle — and fire to first for a highlight-reel out, keeping the deficit at 6-3.
In the sixth, Sanford capitalized for the second-straight game after an opponent decided to intentionally walk Davis Sims in front of him, hitting a line-drive, three-run homerun to right field off EKU reliever Jake Lewis for his second dinger of the day. After a run had already scored in the inning, his 11th blast of the year gave the Hilltoppers a 7-6 lead, which they would not relinquish.
Righty Jacob Green pitched scoreless sixth and seventh frames with the lead, while righty Bailey Sutton recorded a 1-2-3 eighth.
Meanwhile, Sanford helped WKU to a five-spot in the seventh and a 12-6 lead, launching his third homerun of the game — his first-career grand slam — to right-center off EKU reliever Aaron Ochsenbein, which is no small feat. Ochsenbein came into the game having pitched 17.2 scoreless frames with 30 strikeouts, allowing only five hits and four walks in the process.
The Colonels scored three in the bottom of the ninth — even bringing the tying run to the plate in the process — but righty Joe Filosa came in to get the final two outs and secure the 12-9 victory for the Hilltoppers, who improved to a 12-11 overall record.
- “With Jake Sanford’s work ethic and the hard work of our coaches working with him, it’s just amazing to see the results that have come in and what he has been able to do. I’m just so happy for him, another great game where he came up big for us.” — Head coach John Pawlowski.
- “You know coming up here there are going to be a lot of runs scored in this park, and facing a tough EKU team. I thought we did a good job in these conditions playing defense and we handled the ball well. Defensively, Kevin Lambert saved us, and he has been doing that all year. Then at the plate he had three hits today, so great game for him.” — Head coach John Pawlowski.
- “This is a group of really tough guys who just compete. Even if we’re down we’re going to keep on playing the game hard, and this is just a great team to be a part of right now … Give a lot of credit to our pitchers, they go out there and attack the zone and just let the defense field the ball and it has worked out. I’m really proud of our pitching staff.” — Shortstop Kevin Lambert.
Up NextCurrently on a three-game win streak and boasting a 5-1 Conference USA record, WKU returns home for a three-game series vs. Charlotte from March 29-31. The Friday-to-Sunday series will have start times of 5 p.m., 1 p.m. and 12 p.m.
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WKU Hilltopper Athletics