Topper bats clinch series sweep of Middle

Brad Stephens

WKU came into this weekend looking to start the Sun Belt Conference season at the top of the league. The Toppers’ performance Saturday ensured they won’t be looking up at anyone in the Sun Belt standings, at least after this weekend.

WKU combined for 21 runs in two games Saturday, sweeping an afternoon doubleheader 12-2 and 9-7 against Middle Tennessee at Nick Denes Field.

The Toppers (10-9) clinched their first Sun Belt sweep under coach Matt Myers. WKU beat the Blue Raiders 6-5 Friday.

“When we get everybody going,” Myers said, ‘it’s a pretty good lineup. We played two different lineups today and we had a lot of people contribute. That’s the neat thing about our depth.”

The Toppers won Saturday’s nightcap thanks in large to the bat of senior first baseman Ryan Huck. The St. Louis native went 2-for-3 with two solo home runs and a walk.

His first shot was a line drive blast deep over the left-center field wall that tied MTSU at 3-3 in the fourth inning.

Then Huck hit an fifth inning fly ball that carried over the left field wall to put the Toppers up 8-3.

Coupled with two home runs Friday, Huck hit four home runs during the series sweep. He hit just three all last season.

“This is my fourth year and anytime we get a chance to sweep Middle Tennessee, our rival, it’s unreal,” Huck said. “It’s huge getting off to such a good start in conference.”

MTSU scored the game’s first three runs. A Dalton Henzman RBI double and Dain McNabb sacrifice fly put the Blue Raiders up 2-0 in the first.

MTSU added a third run in the third on an RBI groundout from Trent Miller.

WKU started a streak of eight straight runs with two in the bottom of the third. Third baseman Thomas Peter followed a Blake Crabtree single and a David Simmons double with an RBI sacrifice bunt to score Crabtree. Simmons then scored on an RBI groundout by Scott Wilcox.

Huck tied the game in the fourth with his third home run of the series. WKU took the lead when Justin Hageman scored on a fielder’s choice hit into by Simmons. A Peter single to center drove in two to put the Toppers up 6-3. He came around to score on a double hit by Wilcox.

Huck stretched that lead to five on his homer in the fifth.

But the Blue Raiders battled back, scoring four in the sixth on two-run home runs hit by Henzman and McNabb.

Ian Tompkins took over on the mound in the seventh and shut out Middle the rest of the way.

“Our guys are understanding how to play a full game, how to have a team at-bat, and they’re getting rewarded for it,” Myers said.

Senior left-hander Tim Bado (2-1) earned the win for WKU. He went five and one-thirds innings, giving up six runs on nine hits and two walks and striking out seven.

Zac Curtis (3-2) took the loss for MTSU. He went three and one-thirds innings, giving up six runs on six hits and striking out two.

WKU won the day’s first game 12-2 behind three-RBI games from center fielder Trevor Lowe and catcher Ryan Messex.

The Toppers turned a 1-0 game into a 6-0 rout with a five-run, two-out rally in the fifth.

MTSU left-hander Johnathan Frebis walked WKU designated hitter Devin Kelly after 4-3 groundouts from Wilcox and Regan Flaherty. Kelly stole second, then advanced to third on a wild pitch.

Messex followed a Huck walk with an RBI single that scored Kelly and moved Huck to third. Blue Raider coach Jim McGuire responded by replacing Frebis with right-handed reliever Aaron Hyder.

Hyder’s third pitch of the day hit pinch hitter Anderson Miller, loading the bases for pinch hitter Griffith Roark.

Roark responded with a single to left, scoring Huck and Messex and putting the Toppers up 4-0.

Lowe then scored Miller and Roark with a two-RBI double to right, putting WKU up by six runs. Lowe, a Warren Central High School product, finished the game 1-for-3 with a walk and three RBIs. He also made a diving catch in center field to rob MTSU’s Michael Adkins of an extra base hit in the third.

Flaherty and Kelly pushed the Topper lead to 9-0 in the sixth inning. Flaherty scored Wilcox on a double and was then driven in by a shot over the left-center wall off the bat of Kelly.

A two-RBI Messex triple in the eighth, followed by a Miller double, put WKU’s final runs of the day on the board.

The Blue Raiders avoided a shutout when Henzman hit a two-run home run over the left field wall in the top of the ninth.

Right-hander Andrew Edwards (1-1) earned his first win in a Topper uniform. The Marshall County High School product went scattered four hits and two walks over five innings while striking out six.

Frebis (2-2) took the loss for the Blue Raiders. He went four and two-thirds innings, giving up four runs on four hits and five walks while striking out two.