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WKU Baseball: 4 Thoughts on the Hilltoppers’ 2024 Schedule
Fresh off their best season in over a decade, we now know the full slate of games ahead for the Hilltoppers' baseball team in 2024. Here are some key takeaways.
The first year of the Marc Rardin era of Western Kentucky baseball was a resounding success. Having won a total of 45 games in the final two years under John Pawloswki, the Hilltoppers won 33 in their first year under Rardin and not only qualified for, but won a game in the Conference USA baseball tournament.
Year 2 of the Rardin era is nearly upon us and, last week, the WKU baseball program announced its full 56-game schedule.
Despite the success from last year, the Hilltoppers are only slated to return nine players from last year’s squad and have nearly 40 newcomers to try and replicate the success of last year while building the program’s culture on the fly.
While we won’t take time for a deep-preview of the WKU roster or outlook at this time, we will take a second to break down the 2024 slate for the Tops with four key takeaways from the schedule.
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1. Bowling Green’s Hottest Club is: The Nick
I can’t tell you the last time I looked at a WKU baseball schedule and thought to myself, “My word, that’s a really strong home schedule.”
That was, until this year.
West Virginia (40-20, Lexington Regional) comes to town for an early non-conference test and then things get really interesting in April with three straight bangers of matchups with Dallas Baptist (47-16, Stillwater Regional), Louisville (31-24) and Liberty (37-23, Gainseville Regional in ‘22) all visit Bowling Green, which will be two terrific conference matchups plus the Cardinals, a team the Tops could have defeated last year if not for early-season pitching woes.
It isn’t every year you can say this, but Nick Denes Field will be the place to be in 2024.
2. The Road Schedule Is No Slouch, Either
Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Louisville are the headlining names of programs the Hilltoppers will visit this year, but there’s some opportunities for great mid-major series down ballot, as well.
SEMO has won 30+ games in two of the last three seasons, Sam Houston State went 39-25 in WAC play last year, earning a trip to the Baton Rouge Regional while MTSU and La Tech round out the conference schedule.
Tech underperformed by their standard last year, going just 28-31, but were back-to-back 40-game winners the two years prior and will be a great test as the Tops are (hopefully) preparing to make a run in the CUSA tournament.
3. Season-Defining Stretch?
10 of the final 14 games are on the road for the Hilltoppers, a stretch that begins with their trip to Louisville on April 23. From there, the Tops play three games at MTSU (April 26-28) and three games at UNC Asheville (May 3-5) leading up to a home midweek game against Bellarmine (May 7) before it’s back to the road for the series against La Tech (May 10-12).
If there’s a saving grace, it’s that the regular season ends at home against New Mexico State before they head back to Ruston for the CUSA title game.
This stretch comes pretty late in the year but still, 14 games is more than enough to make or break the Tops’ regular season. WKU caught fire in the back half of last year, playing about an even split of home and road games.
4. It’s All About Ruston
There’s a chance Conference USA is a multi-bid league this year, but a lot of that chance comes down to how well Dallas Baptist and La Tech fare, and if a different team can get hot in Ruston.
While not entirely impossible, this is not a schedule that would necessarily propel a 35-40 win WKU team straight into the NCAA Tournament, meaning they’ll need to win their first Conference USA baseball tournament to play through Memorial Day.
Marc Rardin made his pre-D1 coaching career off of turning over rosters into championship-caliber teams, so who is to say the same magic can’t be done at WKU? Winning the dang thing in year two would be an impressive feat, but after the turnaround from last season, I don’t think anything can be counted out.