WKU defeats rival MTSU in conference opener

Austin Lanter

The WKU baseball team came from behind to defeat rival Middle Tennessee State 6-4 on Friday to win its fifth straight conference opener.

WKU was led by senior first baseman Ryan Huck, who had two home runs and five RBIs on the day.

“It’s real big to get a comeback win,” Huck said. “Any win you can get, especially to open up conference like that. Getting that first win in conference is always the biggest one and hopefully we can build on top of that and get a couple more here this weekend.”

The Hilltoppers sent junior Tanner Perkins to the mound on Friday, who started two games against the Blue Raiders in 2011 going 2-0, allowing only one earned run and boasting an ERA of 0.60. 

However, MTSU was able to get on the board in the first inning courtesy of a two-out double by left-fielder Trent Miller that scored first baseman Hank LaRue. It was the seventh time this season that the Blue Raiders were able to score in the first inning and the 11th time they’ve scored in a game before their opponents.

WKU threatened in the third inning getting a runner on third base. However, junior outfielder Regan Flaherty grounded out to end the inning and keep the score at 1-0.

The Blue Raiders started the fourth inning off with four straight singles, scoring one run to extend their lead to 2-0. After recording a strikeout, the bases were still loaded for shortstop Ryan Ford who made Perkins pay. Ford hit one into left field to score two more runs for MTSU to make it 4-0.

Perkins was able to avoid any further damage in the inning as MTSU left two on base, but not after recording five hits and three runs.

Coach Matt Myers said the team never quit, despite being down 4-0 during the game.

The Toppers didn’t record their first hit until the bottom of the fourth inning when senior catcher Devin Kelly led the inning off with a double. The very next batter, Huck, blasted his third home run of the season over the left field wall to make it a 4-2 game.

“It was a two strike approach,” Huck said. “I was just trying to put the ball in play somewhere…Luckily I was able to square one up and put us on the board.”

MTSU would start the fifth inning much the same way as the fourth recording three straight singles. With no outs and the bases loaded, Myers pulled Perkins and replaced him with sophomore Brennan Pearson.

In four innings of work, Perkins allowed four runs, a career-high 11 hits, and struck out three.

Pearson was able to avoid any danger in the inning despite the bases being loaded with no outs. Pearson struck out his first batter and got the next to ground into a double play and get out of the inning.

“Being a relief pitcher, you get thrown in the fire sometimes,” Pearson said. “Your job is to work out of it and that’s what (Myers) put me there for. It’s one of those deals where everything fell into place with that double play ball.”

Huck would strike again in the bottom half of the fifth inning. With two on and two outs, Huck sent his second home-run of the day over the right field wall to give WKU its first lead of the day at 5-4. 

After Pearson allowed two singles to start the sixth inning, he retired eight in a row, six via strikeout, to preserve the one-run lead for the Tops in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. The six strikeouts was a career high for Pearson, who is from Murfreesboro, Tenn., where Middle Tennessee State is located. He was also credited with the win for the game, his first of the season.

Myers described Pearson’s pitching as “lights out” on Friday.

WKU added to its total in the eighth inning. Huck led the inning off with a single and reached second on a sacrifice bunt. The Blue Raiders intentionally walked Messex and then pinch-hitter Jordan Cessna connected on a single up the middle to bring Huck home and double the Topper lead at 6-4.

Senior pitcher Taylor Haydel came on in the ninth inning to close it out for WKU. Despite allowing one run to the Blue Raiders, Haydel finished the game for the Tops to earn his second save of the season.

“That was huge and it doesn’t matter if it’s Middle or anyone in our conference,” Myers said. “Just a team victory on Friday night…That was a team victory tonight. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

The game was the eighth one-run game for WKU this season.

The two teams will square off for games two and three of the series on Saturday in a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. with the second game immediately following the first. Junior Andrew Edwards will start game two on the mound for WKU with senior Tim Bado slated to start game three.