Western Kentucky suffered its first loss in the 2019 Conference USA Baseball Tournament with a 6-1 setback against top-seeded Florida Atlantic on Thursday in Biloxi, Miss.

The No. 1 Owls had 27 baserunners and multiple runners on base in all nine frames. But they were held to a 1-for-18 mark with runners in scoring position and left 18 runners on base as the game stayed within reach all the way to the end. On the flip side, however, WKU had eight baserunners, with multiple Hilltoppers on base in only two innings.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we hung around,” WKU coach John Pawlowski said in a news release. “We had a lot of practice with runners on base; that’s not the way you draw it up. If you play that game again, it could get out of hand quickly.

“The way we pitched out of trouble gave us a chance, but they were very good on the mound and we weren’t able to get much going offensively.”

With the loss, fourth-seeded WKU will face No. 8 UTSA in an elimination game that is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. start on Friday. After four contests at MGM Park on both Wednesday and Thursday, there are only two scheduled on Day 3, with No. 6 Marshall matched up against No. 7 Rice for the other half of the bracket’s elimination game.

After a scoreless first frame, Florida Atlantic struck for a pair of runs in the top of the second. Starter Joe Filosa walked Mitchell Hartigan, who moved over two bases on a pair of wild pitches, then scored on an RBI groundout. With two outs, FAU’s nine-hitter Wilfredo Alvarez hit a solo home run to right field – his first of the season in his 126th at-bat – to give the Owls a 2-0 lead.

Trailing 3-0 an inning later, the Hilltoppers got on the board when left fielder Ray Zuberer III lifted a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to right field to score shortstop Kevin Lambert, who led off the frame with his sixth double of the season off the left-field wall.

That would be all the scoring for WKU, however, as Florida Atlantic starter Mike Ruff spun one of the better games of the week so far in Biloxi, Miss. The righty pitched 7 1/3 innings of three-hit, one-run ball, striking out 11 while issuing three walks with one hit by pitch.

Ruff threw 69-of-116 pitches for strikes before coming out in the eighth. Lefty Dylan O’Connell came in from the bullpen to get the final five outs of the contest.

Along with the sacrifice fly, Zuberer added a single in the sixth inning, finishing 1-for-3 on the night. First baseman Jack Wilson walked twice, while second baseman Nick Brunson added a single in the bottom of the fifth.

The Hilltoppers turned three double plays in the field, including a pair of inning-ending twin-killings in the later innings.{&end}


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