WKU Baseball: Sanford’s slugging leads to Tops’ hot start in Conference USA play

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Western Kentucky Baseball is off to its best start in league play since joining Conference USA.

A big reason for that early success boils down to the hitting of junior transfer Jake Sanford, who’s been arguably the hottest hitter in college baseball since the start of March.

“It’s been sort of crazy,” said Sanford. “Sort of surreal. Feels like I’m playing a video game.”

Except, even players in video games have a hard time replicating the same numbers Sanford has in recent weeks.

In the month of March alone, Sanford racked up 30 hits in 18 games – 14 of which were sent over the fence for home runs.

“We knew he had some power to all fields, but to actually see it come to fruition game after game is just remarkable,” Head Coach John Pawlowski said. “Unbelievable what we’ve seen.”

The 18 game stretch in March also saw the Nova Scotia native knock in 34 RBIs, as well as raise his batting average a staggering 87 points – from .294 to .381.

That hot streak in the plate has resulted in numerous awards for the junior outfielder, including back-to-back Conference USA Hitter of the Week awards, only the third time in Conference USA history a player has done that.

This week, Sanford was also recognized as 1 of 7 players named to Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s Players of the Week, as well as College Sports Madness’ National Player of the Week.

Understandably so when you look at where Sanford ranks nationally among Division 1 hitters:

  • 2nd with 14 home runs
  • 3rd with 93 total bases
  • 3rd with a .886 slugging percentage
  • 4th with 42 runs batted in

“It’s sort of like my junior college year,” Sanford said of his recent performances. “It took me 20 games, and then the floodgates opened up. I just started to relax more and then just started to take it easy.”

A more relaxed and disciplined approach at the plate has paid off for the plate – including hitting a walk-off home run to give WKU a 5-4 win over UAB on March 15.

“It’s pretty special. Especially that home run. It felt really good,” said Sanford, reflecting on that moment. “My grandparents were in the crowd all the way from Nova Scotia, so that was really good.”

“Just to know that when we have a chance to win a game late, to have his presence in the lineup…anything can happen,” added Pawlowski.

It’s hard to question the impact Sanford has had in his first season on the diamond for the Hilltoppers. But for the slugger, he hopes to make a bigger impact off it whenever he’s finally done playing baseball, and hangs up the spikes for good.

“When I’m done with it, I want to go back and open up a facility and try to help kids get to where I am here – get to school in [the United States],” Sanford said. “In Canada, there’s not much recruitment and everything, so I want to help them with that.”

It would seem Sanford’s always had a helping heart, and it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by his coaches and teammates, too.

“He’s a great team guy,” Pawlowski said. “He does whatever we want him to do, or ask him to do. He goes above and beyond to always respect his teammates and know that they’re pushing him to get better, just like the coaches are.”

Now Sanford’s just hoping he can help his team continue this hot streak at the beginning of league play.

“We’re going to keep playing up to our potential,” he said, with a look of confidence across his face.