Relievers Ben Morrison and Jacob Green silenced the UTSA lineup for the final five innings, leading WKU Baseball to a 9-5 victory over the Roadrunners on Saturday afternoon. All nine hitters in the lineup had at least one hit, highlighted by Ray Zuberer III and Luke Brown with two apiece.
Coming off a four-hit, complete game shutout at Rice six days ago, righty Paul Kirkpatrick allowed five runs – four earned – in four frames of work. He struck out four and walked none, but also allowed seven hits.
For the Hilltoppers (14-14, 4-5), 7-of-9 runs on the day came home with two outs, including all four runs in the first inning.
After UTSA took a 2-0 lead in the top half, the starter Chance Kirby walked the bases loaded and faced off with Brown. The freshman drove an 0-1 pitch into right field for a double that brought home a pair. Another run scored when Chase Larsen reached on an error by second baseman Bryan Arias, then a fourth touched home plate on a Colin Butkiewicz RBI single into center field.
But the visitors scratched one run across in each of the next three frames to post a 5-4 lead going into the bottom of the fourth.
With one out in that inning, Kevin Lambert took Kirby deep to give WKU a 6-5 lead on a two-run homerun. It was Lambert’s fifth career long ball, but first in 52 games at Nick Denes Field. Lambert made his 83rd straight start on the left side of the infield.
Later in the frame, Jacob Rhinesmith got things going with a single to right and moved to second base on his second steal of the afternoon. In another two-out opportunity, Tyler Robertson doubled off the left-field wall to score Rhinesmith and give the Hilltoppers a 7-5 lead.
With that two-run advantage, in trotted Ben Morrison from the bullpen. Through two Conference USA weekends, the senior had posted seven scoreless frames with zero earned runs allowed; a four-inning save vs. Middle Tennessee and a three-inning save at Rice.
Morrison kept that streak going, as the righty posted zeroes in each of the next three innings to earn the win that was up for grabs. He did allow two Roadrunners into scoring position in the fifth, but a strikeout and a fly out to right field stranded them both, then he proceeded to fire 1-2-3 sixth and seventh frames.
In the meantime, WKU added two more runs on a two-out, two-run single by Steven Kraft with the bases loaded in the sixth. Kraft extended his on-base streak to 18 with the hit, and capped March by reaching base at least one time in each game he suited up in the month.
After three scoreless on 40 pitches – 29 strikes – Morrison was replaced by righty Jacob Green, who proceeded to keep the train rolling. The JuCo transfer from Russellville, Ala., notched career highs of four strikeouts and two scoreless innings of work.
WKU is now 3-0 in the final game of Conference USA series. The Hilltoppers are 0-3 in first games and 1-2 in middle games.
WKU improved to 14-10 in day games, after falling to 0-4 in night games on Friday evening. Any game starting before 5 p.m. is classified as a day game.
In the seven games Paul Kirkpatrick has pitched, the Hilltopper pitching staff has issued only seven walks. Kirkpatrick himself has given up only three walks in 39 innings, compared to 35 strikeouts.
Jacob Rhinesmith walked three times, tying Ray Zuberer III (March 16 vs. Middle Tennessee) for most in a game. He drew seven walks in four games this week after entering Tuesday’s game at Eastern Kentucky with five walks in 24 games.
Rhinesmith stole two bases in the first four innings, but was caught in the eighth. If he was successful, he would have been the first Hilltopper to steal three-plus bases in a game since Logan Robbins swiped four at Little Rock on May 26, 2011.
Luke Brown and Tyler Robertson each extended their team-high hit streaks to six. Brown went 2-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBI, and has posted multi-hit performances in 5-of-6 games.
“It’s really important to get every conference game that you can, and you can’t get swept or you won’t make the tournament … Being consistent is a big part of what we want to do in this program, and the more consistent you are the better you’re going to be.” — Sophomore Ray Zuberer III
“When we got down 2-0 in the first inning, offensively we were able to put a four-spot up and what a response that was. I think it gave our team – especially the hitters – a lot of confidence in that situation … I’m very proud of what we did offensively.” — Head coach John Pawlowski
“We put Ben in a little early today because you never know what the situation is going to be and did an outstanding job just like he has all year. He and Jacob threw five shutout innings, so I’m really proud of what they did coming out of the bullpen.” — Head coach John Pawlowski
WKU makes a day trip to Calloway County to face Murray State on Tuesday, April 3, with first pitch at 6 p.m.
The Hilltoppers swept the Racers in a home-and-home in 2017 and have won 19-of-21 games dating back to the 1980 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. Overall, WKU holds a 66-65-1 series advantage in the in-state rivalry over Murray State.
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