Bowling Green, Ky. (WBKO) --- Despite an early 3-0 lead, WKU Baseball was not able to hold off Conference USA-leading Florida Atlantic on Easter Sunday, falling by a score of 6-4. Second baseman Nick Brunson tied a career-high with three base knocks, while right fielder Jake Sanford and left fielder Ray Zuberer III each produced multi-hit games.
Through two innings, starter Joe Filosa was able to keep the Owls off the board despite the visitors loading the bases in each frame. Meanwhile, the Hilltopper offense came through with two runs in the first and another tally in the second.
Zuberer led off the first with a single to right field and moved to third on Sanford's 12 double of the season off the right-field wall. Designated hitter Dillon Nelson followed with a run-scoring ground out, then catcher Matt Phipps flipped his eighth double of the year down the right-field line to make it a 2-0 game.
In the next frame, third baseman Sam McElreath led off with a walk and moved to third on Brunson's fourth double of the season off the left-field wall. Zuberer followed with a run-scoring ground out to push the lead to 3-0, but WKU could not scrape another run across against reliever Jacob Josey, stranding the bases loaded on an inning-ending, 4-6-3 double play.
Florida Atlantic shipped away with a solo homerun by Bobby Morgensen in the third, then a solo shot from Joe Montes to begin the fourth, both against Filosa. The Owls added one more in the sixth on an RBI double by Andru Summerall that scored Francisco Urbaez, then another in the seventh when Montes singled home Mitchell Hartigan; both of those runs were charged to reliever Jacob Green.
After being shut out in innings 3-through-6, the Hilltoppers responded with the game-tying mark in the bottom half of the seventh. After Nelson worked a one-out walk and Phipps drove his second double of the game to center field, freshman center fielder Jackson Swiney lined his team-leading fifth sacrifice fly to the warning track in right field to knot the score at 4-4.
But the Owls responded in the top of the eighth, with a pair of two-out, RBI hits by Hartigan and Wilfredo Alvarez to regain the lead at 6-4. WKU put the tying run on first base in the bottom of the ninth after Sanford led off with a single and Nelson was hit by a Zach Schneider pitch. With one out, Swiney lined another ball to deep right field, but it was caught by Morgensen at the warning track, as Schneider secured the two-run win to claim his 10th save of the season.
Sanford went 2-for-3 to post his team-best 18th multi-hit game, while also adding a pair of intentional walks. The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, native has five intentional walks on the season, and became the first Hilltopper to be awarded two intentional walks in a game since Anderson Miller on April 4, 2015 at Louisiana Tech.
WKU fell to 5-3-1 on Sunday's, 4-2-1 when wearing white caps, 13-5-1 when the opponent's starting pitcher goes fewer than five innings, 4-15-1 when being out-hit, 4-7 when allowing two or more homeruns, 8-1 when leading after the first inning, 0-14 when scoring fewer than five runs.
"Coming in, we knew that Florida Atlantic was one of the best teams in the league and I thought our guys competed very well against them. We came out today with the right mindset, but ultimately we weren't able to take care of business. I thought our pitchers did a good job today of limiting the damage. They had multiple runners on base, but when you hold the top-hitting team in the league has six runs on a Sunday, there are some positives to that." — Head coach John Pawlowski.
"Our guys are going to keep grinding. That's what our team does, that's what the makeup of this club is; nothing has come easy for this group. They come ready to play, I really enjoy coaching these guys, they have a great attitude, they have a lot of fun, they're willing to learn and they're willing to understand when they make mistakes. It's a really good group and we have to keep grinding and keep working, because it's onward and upward from here." — Head coach John Pawlowski.
"I like the fight that we showed all weekend, but we have to be able to finish games. In late-game situations we have to be able to execute offensively, defensively and pitching-wise ... We just have to keep playing baseball, and keep coming out here and grinding our butts off every day." — Junior Ray Zuberer III.
With an 18-19-1 overall record, WKU heads into its next midweek challenge against in-state, SEC rival Kentucky, who stands at 20-20 on the season. The Hilltoppers and Wildcats will face off with a 5 p.m. first pitch on April 23 at Bowling Green Ballpark, the home of the Hot Rods. Temperatures nearing 80 degrees are expected on Tuesday and the first 250 students in attendance will receive a free red t-shirt.