Toppers win South Alabama series, Louisville looms

WKU junior Cody Wofford tags South Alabama’s Adam Ballew in a rundown during their game at Nick Denes field on Friday, April 18, 2014. Despite a strong offense, the Hilltoppers fell to USA 13-10. (Brian Powers/HERALD)

Billy Rutledge

After the WKU baseball team gave up 10 unanswered runs to South Alabama for its fourth straight loss Friday night, coach Matt Myers’ was simple in his delivery of dissatisfaction.

“It was awful, very embarrassing,”  Myers said. “I apologize to all our fans. We were in complete control of that game through six innings and then are bullpen and defense just killed us.”

After senior Justin Hageman pitched six innings giving up three runs with WKU (21-19, 9-9 Sun Belt Conference) leading 6-3, the bullpen was called into the game.

Five different pitchers worked innings seven though nine giving up ten runs on seven hits and six walks. The Jaguars (17-22, 7-10 Sun Belt) scored one run in the seventh, three in the eighth and six in the ninth. But the 13-10 loss didn’t stay in the minds of the team for long.

“They are going to have to be big boys and comeback (Saturday) with their heads held high,” Myers said. “If you get the game tomorrow and win Sunday, you don’t think too much about this one, and that’s the goal to win two out of the three.”

The team took note, put its “big boy” pants on and won both games Saturday and Sunday to take the weekend series from the Jaguars.

The Toppers were able to even up the series thanks to the arm of sophomore Josh Bartley Saturday and the bat of freshman Hunter Wood. After giving up two runs in the first inning, Bartley went on to pitch seven more without giving up a run.  He finished with a career-long eight innings pitched and picked up his first career Sun Belt victory to improve to 4-3 on the year.

WKU trailed 2-1 in the eighth inning before Wood’s grand slam propelled a six run comeback on the Toppers’ way to a 7-2 win. The slam was Wood’s first home run of his career and the second slam for WKU on the season.

The Toppers weren’t done yet as they claimed their fifth weekend series on the season after a 6-3 victory Sunday. Another strong pitching performance from Jake Thompson, headlined the game. Thompson pitched 6.1 innings, giving up five hits and three runs on his way to his third win on the season.

The offense went back to work as well scoring six runs if the final outing on ten hits. WKU finished the series with 38 hits, which marks the third time in the past four series they have had at least 35 hits against league foes.

The win put WKU at .500 in the Sun Belt, which ties them for fourth with UT Arlington. The Toppers have 12 conference games left to play with each team being under WKU in the standings.

WKU plays Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. (CT) at No. 7 Louisville for the second and final meeting of the year. Louisville defeated WKU 5-3 Mar. 26 at Bowling Green Ballpark. The Toppers will once again face senior Jeff Gardner, who comes in as one of the best players in the nation boasting a .338 average and leading the Cards in home runs, RBI’s and slugging average.