Trevor Lowe, Josh Bartley and Jackson Sowell’s in-town baseball careers haven’t skipped a beat.
After making a splash for several seasons on the Bowling Green high school scene, the trio has left its stamp on Western Kentucky University’s season as true freshmen.
“To be honest, I really didn’t expect it,” said Lowe, a center fielder. “Coming in as a freshman, you get very little playing time. That’s something you have to work for, and we’ve all worked for it.”
The freshmen were rivals – and close friends – in high school.
Lowe (Warren Central High School), Bartley (South Warren) and Sowell (Bowling Green) competed against each other in District 14, and Bartley helped the Spartans top Sowell’s Purples for the district and Region 4 titles in 2012.
But the chance to contribute together for WKU was something they talked about even then, Bartley said. They’re joined in the Hilltoppers’ 2013 class by Glasgow High School graduate Parker Cash, who’s redshirting this season as an outfielder.
There’s also a local connection with senior third baseman Blake Crabtree, who graduated from Barren County High School.
“When you come into a program where you actually know a few guys, it’s nice,” Bartley said. “We were close in high school and have played with each other, and to see guys bond as well as we have is great. And the guys we came here to get to know have been awesome and really welcoming.”
The veteran Toppers have welcomed big-time contributions from the newcomers.
Lowe has played most frequently, appearing in 22 games with 15 starts. He’s recently split time in center field with junior David Simmons.
After wrapping up a series win March 30 over Louisiana-Lafayette, WKU coach Matt Myers was quick to point out that the Tops were 9-3 at that time with Lowe starting in the outfield.
“That’s pretty significant,” Myers said. “As I told you all a few weeks ago, one of the greatest baseball quotes I’ve ever read came from Trevor Lowe after the VMI weekend. It’s posted all over our locker room, and it’s a kid that represents toughness, having fun and competitiveness.”
Lowe’s quote that inspired Myers was in a March 8 interview with the Daily News, when he said he tries to remember to have fun through the good and the bad.
He’s kept that perspective in mind as he’s cooled off after a torrid start. He’s batting .200 with one home run, 10 RBIs and eight runs scored, but Myers has toggled Lowe with Simmons to keep him fresh as he adjusts to the college grind.
“It has a lot to do with your legs,” Lowe said. “Your legs get worn out, and you’re having to jump in the ice bath and stuff like that. It’s a lot of work, when you really think about it – running out there every single inning and giving it your all. Sometimes you just need a break, but Simmons is doing a great job right now.
“I’m going to keep working and try my hardest. Just doing what I’ve always been doing.”
Bartley perhaps owns the most emphatic freshman memory this season.
The relief pitcher, who led South Warren to the second round of the state baseball tournament last year, earned his first college win March 19 at No. 8 Kentucky.
Bartley allowed five hits and one run in 22/3 innings of relief against the Wildcats, who offered him a walk-on spot in high school.
“It was real special,” he said. “I don’t know how much I would’ve played there, but it was nice pitching against the guys that I might’ve played with. Our guys hit the ball really well, and we got that win.”
Bartley has made eight appearances, including two midweek starts. He’s recorded 12 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA in 162/3 innings, allowing 15 hits, six runs and five walks.
His confidence has been buoyed by the trust Myers has put in him so early, he said.
“He wants us to do what we can,” Bartley said. “If we do have one bad outing, don’t sweat it. There will be more, because he likes to throw us out there and get experience. Once we’ve got that, we can have a good feel for what we’re supposed to do.”
Sowell has made two starts and five appearances and has 12 strikeouts and a 6.57 ERA in 92/3 innings. He’s allowed 16 hits, 12 runs and four walks.
“I think I’m in the state of learning a lot right now,” Sowell said. “I’m learning to be able to make adjustments to the little things – the toughness of the game, and how it can all change one day. You just have to move on to the next pitch.”
Sowell’s best effort was a March 20 home start against Lipscomb.
He tossed four scoreless innings and limited Lipscomb to three hits and a walk with five strikeouts, although he settled for a no-decision.
“They’ve both been really good on the mound for us,” Myers said of Bartley and Sowell. “They’re contributing, and their roles are getting bigger and bigger.”
The Tops will need the freshmen to continue to fill their roles as they make a push at a Sun Belt Conference title.
WKU (17-15, 8-4 SBC) is tied with Florida Atlantic for the league lead despite dropping a series over the weekend at Arkansas State.
“My goal is to just be ready whenever they call my name, but I think that’s everybody’s game plan,” Sowell said. “We all want to give it our best shot and help the team.”