Western Kentucky started its final regular-season series Thursday with a whimper.
Visiting Old Dominion scored 15 runs over the final five innings, banged out 23 hits and demolished the Hilltoppers 15-1 at Nick Denes Field.
The Monarchs’ 23 hits represented the most allowed in a game this season by WKU (24-26-1 overall, 15-12-1 Conference USA). That effort came two days after the Toppers allowed Austin Peay 22 base knocks Tuesday in a 20-12 loss.
WKU has now dropped four straight games and is in fourth place in the C-USA standings, a half-game behind Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs (33-21, 16-12), who beat the Hilltoppers in two of three games last weekend, leapfrogged WKU in the standings Thursday with a win over Florida International.
ODU (34-18, 15-13), meanwhile, is now 14-4 over its last 18 C-USA games after starting conference play 1-9. The Monarchs – led by former Tops coach Chris Finwood – clinched a Conference USA Tournament berth Thursday with their win.
“We just didn’t play good baseball tonight in every aspect of the game,” WKU shortstop Kevin Lambert told the Daily News. “We also didn’t have any energy in the dugout. That’s basically what we have to bring tomorrow is more energy.”
Lambert had two of the Hilltoppers’ four hits, recording singles in the third and seventh innings. Right fielder Jake Sanford had the other two hits, smacking his 22nd home run of the year in the fourth inning and his 19th double in the sixth.
That was all the offense WKU mustered against ODU pitchers Tommy Gertner, Aaron Holiday, Hunter Gregory and Michael Parmentier.
After Sanford’s solo shot put WKU up 1-0 in the fourth inning, the Monarchs struck for five runs in the fifth.
Jared Hancock (single), Bryce Windham (single) and Will Morgan (sacrifice fly) drove in one fifth-inning run apiece. Matt Burch added two more on another single.
Of Old Dominion’s 23 hits, 21 were singles. Doubles by Burch and Tommy Bell represented the Monarchs’ only two extra-base hits.
Hilltopper starting pitcher Reece Calvert allowed 11 hits and seven runs. Relievers Colin Lollar (four runs), Jack Lambert (one) and Maddex Richardson (three) failed to stop the bleeding.
“It was a frustrating night,” WKU coach John Pawlowski said. “We get on the board 1-0, Jake Sanford hits a home run for us, and then they put five runs on the board.
“From a pitching standpoint, they just found holes. And offensively, we haven’t been that bad collectively in a game in a long, long time.”
Sanford named Dick Howser Trophy semifinalist
Sanford was named Thursday as one of 26 semifinalists for the Dick Howser Trophy, the annual national award for the outstanding collegiate baseball player.
The junior Sanford is one of five outfielders to make the list and the lone player from C-USA. He becomes the first WKU player to earn the honor since Ryan Bicondoa in 2002.
The Dick Howser Trophy is given in memory of the former Florida State All-American shortstop and major league player and manager, who died in 1987. It is regarded as college baseball’s most prestigious award, as the baseball equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association votes for the recipient based on nominees’ performance, character, leadership and courage, a news release said.
With Thursday’s long ball, Sanford moved into sole possession of fifth place on WKU’s single-season home run charts and became only the fifth hitter in Division I to reach the 22-dinger plateau in 2019. It marked the 12th-consecutive weekend series in which he has hit at least one home run.
With 104 total bases in 28 C-USA games, Sanford has set a league record, passing Ryan Jones of East Carolina, who had 103 in 2004. Sanford’s 14th home run in league play tied a league record with six other players, most recently posted by Matt Wallner of Southern Mississippi in 2017.
“From where he was in the beginning in the fall, nobody knew kind of who he was,” Pawlowski said. “He came out of nowhere and continues to have quality at-bats. He’s done a tremendous job.
“The year he’s had has been outstanding and that’s a great reward for the hard work, time and effort he’s put into it.”
WKU will look to stop its four-game slide Friday when the teams play the second of three games in their series. First pitch is set for 5 p.m. from Nick Denes Field.
Troy Newell (3-3, 6.66 ERA) is projected to start for the Hilltoppers. He’s sat out the last four games serving a suspension for his role in WKU’s May 10 postgame altercation at Louisiana Tech.
ODU’s Nick Pantos (5-2, 3.91) is set to oppose Newell.
After this weekend’s series, the Toppers will get ready to head next week to Biloxi, Miss., for the Conference USA Tournament.
Pawlowski is 85-126-1 in his fourth year at WKU and 590-444-2 overall in his coaching career. … The Hilltoppers trail their all-time series against Old Dominion 8-4. Thursday marked only the teams’ fourth meeting at Nick Denes Field. … WKU fell to 9-2 this season when its starting pitcher throws at least five innings. Calvert lasted 5 1/3 frames Thursday. … The Monarchs have another Topper connection on their staff in addition to Finwood. ODU assistant Logan Robbins was a three-year letterman at WKU from 2009-11, playing under Finwood all three years. … Announced attendance at Nick Denes Field was 340.
Old Dominion (34-18, 15-13) – 0 0 0 0 5 4 2 1 3 – 15 23 0
Western Kentucky (24-26-1, 15-12-1) – 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 – 1 4 0
WP: Gertner (1-0) LP: Calvert (2-3)