SILENCE OF THE BATS/Luke Pettite, Dallas Baptist bullpen shackle Hilltoppers, 3-0, to avoid a three-game sweep


Marc Rardin, Western Kentucky University’s second-year head baseball coach, was upbeat after Sunday afternoon’s 3-0 loss to eighth-ranked Dallas Baptist University, perhaps mindful that the Hilltoppers’ season is still taking shape.

And any way you slice it, the future remains bright.

Dallas Baptist, a baseball-only member of Conference USA, avoided a three-game sweep in the series finale at WKU’s Nick Denes Field. The Hilltoppers managed just three hits, and never got a base runner to third base, in dropping to 21-11 overall and 6-3 in Conference USA.

The Patriots, meanwhile, improved to 25-6 overall, while moving into to a second-place tie with WKU and Louisiana Tech in the C-USA standings. Liberty University, a first-year C-USA member, is under .500 in all games (15-16) but setting the pace in the conference with a 7-2 league record.

“There are a lot of positives. We are in the game, but then we aren’t,” Rardin said. “We just lacked offense today. It didn’t really feel like we we’re threatening too much (offensively).

“We didn’t get a runner to third base.”

DBU right-hander Luke Pettite, the son of former New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettite, turned in five sturdy innings, allowing just two hits and a walk, before yielding to reliever Nick Wilson for the sixth. Pettite recorded five strikeouts, letting his defense do much of the work. DBU closer Conner Mackay recorded the save, at which point the Hilltoppers could turn their attention to Tuesday evening’s high-profile game against the University of Louisville at Nick Denes Field.

WKU coach Marc Rardin plans to make a couple lineup adjustments for that game, and the Tops will face Bellarmine University on Wednesday in Louisville, before taking a flight to Houston and a three-game road series against C-USA opponent Sam Houston State.

“We are changing our history here, a little bit,” Rardin said. “We are kind of making some history … just rewriting everything. I wanted (his team) to leave today understanding it was a good weekend, but we just left too much food on the table.

“We can do better than that.”

Drew Whalen, the Hilltoppers’ starting pitcher, got off to a fast start, retiring the first nine DBU batters that he faced. That all changed in the top of the fourth inning, when DBU’s leadoff man, Miguel Santos, lined Whalen’s first pitch into shallow center field for a single. Ethan Mann then slapped a single through the left side of the infield, bringing DBU slugger Chayton Krauss to the plate.

Krauss unloaded a three-run home run, to center field, for his ninth home run of the season. Whalen, who dropped to 1-2 with the defeat, then retired the side before yielding to WKU right-hander Dawson Hall, a sophomore from Bowling Green High School.

Hall pitched a quick fifth inning, needing just nine pitches to retire the side, and Rardin used four other WKU pitchers after that — left-hander Lane Diuguid, followed by righties Cole Heath, Cal Higgins and Coby Moe — all for one inning each. Pettite (3-0) made way for hard-throwing DBU reliever Nick Wilson for the sixth, and Wilson allowed just one hit over three innings pitched before Patriots closer Conner Mackay completed the task at hand.

The game took just two hours, two minutes to complete, and the Tops took way too many strikes while putting together way too MANY feeble at bats.

Doesn’t mean they don’t come out swinging Tuesday evening against Louisville, a tradition-rich program that knows the way to Omaha for the College World Series. The Cardinals are 20-11 overall and 6-6 in the cut-throat Atlantic Coast Conference.

WKU’s Marc Rardin joked that the Patriots’ winning formula was right out of the late, great Earl Weaver’s playbook during his storied years with the Baltimore Orioles.

“Back in the day,” Rardin said, “about a million years ago, Earl Weaver with the Orioles … he lived off that stuff, right? The three-run homer, starting pitching … We gave up seven runs in 27 innings, against a team that averages more than eight runs per game.

“I will take that.”