WKU baseball set to exceed expectations in inaugural C-USA season

Baseball Head Coach, Matt Myers speaks about the upcoming season to reporters during the Baseball Media Day, Tuesday, Feb. 10, at Diddle Arena. The Toppers ranked 9th in the preseason Conference USA coaches poll, but Myers said he won’t let the low ranking phase him. Mike Clark/ HERALD

John Reecer

Coming off a 29-28 season in its final Sun Belt Conference campaign last season, the WKU baseball team heads into its 2015 campaign focused on the new challenges the Conference USA will offer.  

The Hilltoppers’ schedule includes seven teams that went to the NCAA tournament last year, and a nonconference schedule in which every opponent won at least 23 games last year. The nonconference schedule consists of storied successful programs such as Maryland, Vanderbilt, Louisville, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Ohio State and Coastal Carolina. 

“We have to go find the bullies and take care of them,” Head Coach Matt Myers said. “You don’t get rewarded these days for playing a soft schedule. The good thing about a hard schedule is that your mind doesn’t wonder and you have to focus on every game every day.”

As WKU wades through the uncharted waters of a new conference, its conference schedule includes seven teams that won at least 30 games last year—including Rice University which is ranked in Collegiate Baseball’s Top 40 NCAA Division I preseason poll as No. 22. 

Coach Myers will rely on his six returning hitters from last season to spark the offense this season. The six returning hitters were part of a WKU offense that ranked among the nation’s regular-season offensive leaders in hits (18th), doubles (7th) and slugging percentage (26th).

“It’s going to be a really good conference,” Myers said. “The difference between this conference and the Sun Belt is that the Sun Belt was an offensive dominant league and Conference-USA is stronger with its pitching as many teams have dominant bullpens.”

The leader of that WKU offense will be Preseason All-Conference USA first baseman Ryan Church, who lead WKU last season with 38 RBI and seven home runs.   

“I think our offense is second to none,” Church said. “I think we became faster, I think we became more powerful and I think we became more physical. You’re going to see this year that we get after it. We’re going to turn singles into doubles, doubles into triples and first-to-third. We’ll run balls out of the park and steal some bags. It’s going to be a lot different.”

The C-USA preseason coaches’ poll has WKU tabbed to finish ninth in the 12-team league, as rival Middle Tennessee State earned the eighth spot in the preseason rankings. Rice unanimously was picked as the preseason conference champion.  

“It’s hard not to look into preseason rankings but I would be lying if I said we didn’t look at that stuff,” said senior pitcher Brennan Pearson. “So we are going to use that as motivation all season.” 

Even with low expectations from other league coaches and a challenging conference and non-conference schedule, Coach Myers is still optimistic about this upcoming season.

“We feel like this team is built for a run which is why the schedule is so tough,” said Myers. “The preparation has been done and it is now time for us to turn it loose and play hard, fast and free and have a great year.”