FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Thirteen games against NCAA Tournament qualifiers from a year ago, plus showdowns with Kentucky at Bowling Green Ballpark and other Southeastern Conference foes Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State highlight the 2010 Western Kentucky University Hilltopper baseball schedule, announced today by the school.
The Hilltoppers finished the 2009 season with a 42-20 record and earned a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship with a 21-8 mark in league play. For the second-straight season the team advanced to the NCAA Tournament, this time earning an at-large bid and a three-seed in the Oxford Regional. WKU advanced to the regional championship game before falling to Ole Miss, 4-1, to end the season. As a result of the record-setting campaign, the Hilltoppers found themselves ranked 23rd in the final Collegiate Baseball Top 30 poll.
“This is probably the most challenging schedule we’ve put together,” WKU head coach Chris Finwood said. “The first three weekends are all against teams that made the NCAA Tournament or won their conference last year, plus we have a trip to VCU in our Sun Belt Conference open week.”
The season opens at Nick Denes Field on February 19 with the start of a three-game set against Kent State. The Golden Flashes won 43 games in 2009 and earned a trip to the Tempe Regional. After the series with Kent State, the Hilltoppers will hit the road to play Belmont on Wednesday, February 24 and three games at Baylor February 26-28. Baylor advanced out of the rugged Big 12 Conference to play in the Baton Rouge Regional, hosted by College World Series champion LSU.
After returning from Waco, Texas, WKU will host Austin Peay on Tuesday, March 2 before welcoming Illinois-Chicago to Bowling Green for a three game series March 5-7. The Flames won the Horizon League championship in 2009 and fell one game short of advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
Following the conclusion of the Illinois-Chicago series, WKU will take on two-straight SEC opponents with games at home against Tennessee on March 9 and at Mississippi State on March 10. Mississippi State is one of the toughest places to play in the country, with an average of over 6,300 fans coming to see the Bulldogs play in Starkville each game last season.
Sun Belt Conference games begin on March 12 with the start of a three-game series at New Orleans. Finwood’s squad will have little rest during conference play, as the midweek schedule features home-and-home contests against Vanderbilt, Louisville and Kentucky, plus games against in-state rivals Murray State and Eastern Kentucky. The April 20 game against Kentucky will be played downtown at Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Tampa Bay Rays’ Class A affiliate Bowling Green Hot Rods.
“This is going to be a tough schedule from start to finish,” Finwood said. “There are not going to be any easy games. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
In defense of their 2009 Sun Belt Conference championship, the Hilltoppers will travel to New Orleans, Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette for three-game weekend series. ULM, South Alabama, FIU, UALR and Middle Tennessee all come to Bowling Green.
The regular-season concludes in fine fashion when arch-rival Middle Tennessee heads to Nick Denes Field on May 20-22. The Blue Raiders and the Hilltoppers only played twice in 2009 due to weather issues, and the two teams ended up sharing the Sun Belt Conference championship as a result. The Blue Raiders were the other Sun Belt team to advance to the NCAA Tournament last season, winning once in the Louisville Regional and finishing the season with a 44-18 record.
The Hilltoppers played some of their best baseball at Nick Denes Field in 2009, finishing with a school-record .900 winning percentage and a 27-3 record at home. The schedule once again features 30 home contests for WKU.
The Sun Belt Conference Tournament will be played May 26-30 in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and the NCAA Tournament begins on June 4.