Bowling Green, Ky. (WBKO) --- WKU Baseball posted an early lead and held on for a wire-to-wire win against visiting Rice on Sunday afternoon by a score of 6-4. The Hilltoppers secured a three-game sweep of the Owls for the first time in program history.
WKU improved to 23-22-1 overall and 14-9-1 in Conference USA action — 2.5 games behind second-place Florida Atlantic, 1.5 games ahead of fourth-place Louisiana Tech and 4.5 games ahead of ninth-place Middle Tennessee.
For the second-straight weekend, righty Bailey Sutton earned a win and a save. The Louisville native tossed a perfect ninth inning to earn his second save of the season on Sunday after working two scoreless frames in Friday’s 6-3 victory.
After having to come from behind in 3-0 deficits in both ends of Friday’s doubleheader sweep, WKU jumped out to a 2-0 advantage in the bottom of the first.
Second baseman Ray Zuberer III drew a leadoff walk, stole second base and moved to third on a fly ball by designated hitter Jack Wilson. Right fielder Jake Sanford fisted his 17th double of the season to right-center, driving in Zuberer for his 61st run batted in of the year. Then, with two outs, freshman center fielder Jackson Swiney ripped an RBI single into right field that chased Sanford home from second base.
Rice got on the board with a solo homerun by Andrew Dunlap in the next frame, but the Hilltoppers answered right back. Catcher Collin Hopkins stroked a 1-2 pitch from Owls starter Jackson Parthasarathy into center field, scoring third baseman Nick Brunson with two outs from second base to give WKU a 3-1 lead.
The Hilltoppers’ lead got to as large as 5-1, when first baseman Matt Phipps grounded home Wilson in the third frame and Sanford singled home Zuberer again in the fifth for his 62nd run batted in of the season.
Rice tallied a pair of runs against reliever Dalton Shoemake in the sixth and one against winning pitcher Collin Lollar in the eighth. But Zuberer smacked a solo homerun of the season in the seventh inning — his second of the series, fourth of the season and eighth of his career — as the WKU held on for a two-run victory.
After losing 10 consecutive games to the Owls since joining Conference USA prior to the 2015 season, the Hilltoppers have now won five straight games in the head-to-head series. WKU’s pitching staff has held the Rice offense to only 20 runs in 53 innings over the past two years.
Starter Joe Filosa pitched a season-high 4.2 innings on a season-high 89 pitches. He allowed only one run on four hits, two walks and one hit by pitch, while adding three strikeouts. Over his past three starts, the graduate senior has allowed only four earned runs on nine hits in 12 innings.
Sanford went 2-for-3 with one hit by pitch, one run scored and two driven in. It was his third multi-hit game of the series and 23rd of the season, as well as his 12th multi-RBI effort. He improved his slash line to .420/.505/.867 in 46 overall games and .475/.556/.929 in 24 Conference USA contests.
Zuberer went 2-for-3 with a walk and three runs scored, marking his eighth multi-hit game and multi-run performances of the year. The Owensboro native started his first game at second base since Feb. 28, 2017, in his freshman season vs. Lipscomb and was a perfect 5-for-5 in fielding opportunities, including four assists.
“What a great weekend for the Tops. Bringing back the All-Century Team with the 22 members and Coach [Joel] Murrie who represent the rich history and tradition of our program, and then sweeping a tough series against Rice, a perennial College World Series team that has been there and done that.” — Head coach John Pawlowski.
“I thought our team responded to the challenge very well. We played extremely well — good defense, the way we pitched it and timely hitting. We had three seniors in Reece Calvert, Troy Newell and Joe Filosa who stepped up in a big way. They kept us in each game and we found ways to scratch and score some runs and take home a big weekend for the Tops.” — Head coach John Pawlowski.
“Being in the Conference USA Tournament is where we want to get to and now in third place gives us a little bit of cushion to do that. I just think this was a good win for the team, a lot of guys stepped up with big hits and big pitches, doing what we have to do to get it done.” — Sophomore Bailey Sutton.
With finals week on The Hill, WKU will not play a midweek game for only the second time this season. The Hilltoppers will face Louisiana Tech in a three-game, Friday-to-Sunday set from May 10-12 in Monroe, La. The series was moved to Louisiana Monroe’s Warhawk Field due to the devastating damage caused by a tornado to the Bulldogs’ J.C. Love Field the night of April 25.