Finding their way: Toppers hitting their stride after successful home stand

Sophomore third baseman Thomas Peter avoids being tagged by Arkansas State freshman infielder Eric Wilcoxson during their 9-6 victory Saturday over the Red Wolves. WKU won two games out of the three-game series against their conference rivals. (Ian Maule/HERALD)

Billy Rutledge

The WKU baseball team entered last week with a daunting schedule of five games in seven days.

But all were in the confines of Nick Denes Field, and the Toppers’ aggressive approach paid off. The team won four of its five games, including a 2-1 series victory against Sun Belt Conference foe Arkansas State.

In the past week, the Toppers have raised their RPI to 37th in the nation (as of Sunday), secured fourth place in the Sun Belt standings and won their fifth weekend series of the season. The team averaged six runs a game on its way to defeating three different teams, Lipscomb, Austin Peay and Arkansas State.

“I thought this whole week we played with some really good intensity at the plate,” Head Coach Matt Myers said. “I don’t know if we win a couple of those mid-week games because they were a little sloppy, but good teams win them and we found a way.”

After the two mid-week victories, the Toppers (18-15, 6-6 Sun Belt Conference) found themselves against Arkansas State. In the first game Friday, the two teams experienced offensive outbursts that resulted in 19 hits and 14 runs, but it was WKU that came away with the 8-6 victory.

The Toppers found a way to win even after walking eight batters, giving up ten hits and committing three errors. Senior pitcher Justin Hageman secured his third win of the season and continued his productive year. His ERA is a Sun Belt low of 2.49.

A grand slam by junior first baseman Ryan Church propelled WKU over the Red Wolves 9-6 Saturday, the first grand slam for WKU since 2011. It was the fifth inning where WKU was able to do most of its damage where the Toppers scored five runs.

Trailing 3-1 to start the inning, sophomore Trevor Lowe was hit by a pitch, and a single by senior David Simmons put runners at the corners for junior shortstop Cody Wofford.

Wofford delivered a single to score Lowe and put runners on first and second with two outs. After senior Scott Wilcox drew a walk to load the bases, Church slammed the first pitch of the at bat over the left field wall and onto Avenue of Champions for his fifth home run of the year to put WKU in front 6-3 and eventually win the game.

“I walked up to the plate and my plan was to see something up and try to drive it,” Church said. “He gave it to me and I took advantage. This team battles. This team fights and I’m pumped up about it.”

WKU finally slipped up in a 7-5 loss Sunday. Arkansas State led the entire game but WKU didn’t quit, heading into the ninth inning trailing 7-1.

Four runs on three walks and two hits, which included a two-out, three-run double from Wilcox, allowed for the go-ahead run to reach the plate. The Toppers were unable to complete the comeback, leaving two runners stranded on base in the ninth to reach a total of nine left on base in the game.

With Arkansas State now behind them, WKU has faced four out of the nine Sun Belt opponents, including the league’s top three teams in ULL, Texas State and Arkansas State.

“We’ve played the three best teams and if we play with this intensity we will be in good shape down the road,” Myers said. “I told the guys after the Lafayette series, we went toe-to-toe with those guys one pitch away from winning that series that if we play like that there will be some good outcomes.

“We got to get some guys healthy,” he added. “This schedule has been a grind, but it’s in our favor if we can take care of business down the road.”

WKU’s next game will be tonight at Austin Peay, a team the Toppers defeated last week 5-2 at Nick Denes Field, where pitching by the Toppers dominated the Governors’ lineup.