Pratt: Toppers gaining strength through the grind

WKU’s redshirt junior catcher Ryan Messex (30) swings during the team’s game against Texas State Friday at Nick Denes Field. The Toppers defeated the Bobcats 4-1. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Elliott Pratt

For eight innings on Sunday, Matt Myers stood from the dugout and watched a team that looked nothing like the Toppers that had just won four straight games at Nick Denes Field.

Then for the ninth, his mood changed with the same shift of his team’s performance, which may have been why he was in a better mood after the game even though his team lost.

After the Toppers had won four straight at Nick Denes Field last week, their last game was a sudden flip-flop of the week’s happenings until the bottom of the ninth.

Down 7-1 on full count, senior second baseman Scott Wilcox hit a three-run double down center field and Ryan Church hit an RBI single to bring WKU within two runs in just a matter of a few pitches.

The Toppers dropped the game 7-5 while Arkansas State avoided the series sweep.

When all has been lost, it’s the bottom-of-the-ninth-inning-two-out efforts like Sunday that leave Myers smiling about where his team is at this point in the year.

“I told the guys coming back from the (Louisiana) Lafayette series that we were probably a pitch away from winning that series and if we played like that there would be some really good outcomes,” Myers said. “I thought this whole week we played with some really good intensity at the plate because I don’t know if we win a couple of those midweek games because we were a little sloppy. Good teams win them and we found a way and I love the way the guys went about it.”

WKU’s 18-15 record that barely scratches the surface above .500 isn’t indicative to how well the Toppers have played against the teams with high RPIs. What’s going to look sore on their resume is the losses to the teams they shouldn’t have had problems with.

The Toppers have wins under their belt against the three teams ahead of them in the Sun Belt Conference. Louisiana-Lafayette carries the highest RPI of any opponent they’ve played, currently at No. 4. WKU defeated the Ragin’ Cajuns when they were ranked No. 1 and, as Myers said, was just a pitch or two away from taking the series.

WKU dropped a home series against Texas State (18-13) who sits one game ahead of the Toppers in the Sun Belt standings.

With this weekend’s series win against Arkansas State (17-15), the leagues No. 2 team, the Toppers are showing enough to Myers that sitting at .500 in the conference isn’t necessarily a bad thing looking ahead.

Wins against ULL and a non-conference victory on the road at Vanderbilt, who was ranked No. 4 at the time, gives him much to look forward to.

“We’ve played now the three best (Sun Belt) teams,” Myers said. “I like where we’re at. If we play with this intensity we’ll be in good shape down the road. We have to take care of Troy. We have to get some guys healthy. This schedule has been a grind, but it’s in our favor if we can take care of business down the road.”

Troy is having an uncharacteristic year sitting near the bottom of the conference at 16-16 overall and 4-7 in the Sun Belt. The Toppers have won four of the last five meetings. Before that for a stretch of two years between 2010-11, Troy defeated WKU six straight times.

The team knows the grind is wearing on them, but guys like sophomore Anderson Miller believe the team is only getting better as the grind wears on.

“I know we’ve played a real tough schedule this season and we’ve handled it pretty well,” Miller said. “We’ve missed some opportunities, but we’ve gotten better.”