Topper baseball team looking forward to 2013 season

WKU senior infielder Steve Hodgins helps set up chairs in preparation for the official team picture at Media Day on Feb. 12. With plenty of talent returning this season, including many newcomers, the Hilltoppers expect to improve on their 25-33 record a season ago.

Austin Lanter

The WKU baseball team will open the 2013 regular season today with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.

Earlier this week, the Sun Belt Conference released its preseason rankings, as voted on by the coaches, along with the preseason All-Sun Belt team.

The Toppers are selected to finish No. 7 in a league with only 10 teams and did not have a single player named to the preseason All-Conference team.

Coach Matt Myers is not concerned about where others place his team now, though. He said that it’s where his team is at the end of the season that matters.

“I think it’s just people don’t know a lot about this team,” he said. “I think when you do this preseason you go off how many guys are returning and what guys are fresh in your mind.

“But I think some guys are self-promoting a little bit and that’s OK. Like I told our guys, it’s not how we start but where we finish.”

Junior pitcher Justin Hageman agreed with Myers and said the preseason rankings are only going to motivate the Toppers going forward.

“It’s fuel on the fire,” Hageman said. “Do we let it bother us? No, I don’t think so. I think if anything, it motivates us because last year we didn’t do so well.”

The team ended last year’s campaign with a losing record both overall (25-33) and in the Sun Belt (13-17). However, 17 players are returning from last year’s team, many of them pitchers.

Depth, especially at the pitcher position, is something that Myers thinks will be a huge asset to the team this year.

WKU is returning pitchers responsible for 90 percent of its innings pitched from last season. Not only that, but redshirt junior ace Tanner Perkins is set to make his return to the team after suffering a season-ending injury early last March.

“That’s the neat thing, the depth of the pitching staff,” Myers said. “Not only is the experience back, but we’ve added two junior college guys and then four really good freshman arms that I think you guys are going to hear about over the next four years who are going to make an immediate impact. I think they’re ready to help us pitch right now.”

Myers also said that because of the way the bats have changed, pitching is more important.

He said he believes this team is 10 or 11 pitchers deep and all of them able to go “on the weekends.”

Senior first baseman Ryan Huck said he thinks the offense will be able to put up enough runs to help the pitching staff out this season, and that the pitching staff will be the key to the team’s success this year.

Huck also said he believes that the team has depth all across the board, which has really helped push the guys this offseason.

“The depth has pushed us all,” he said. “If you don’t have depth and you think you have a position locked down, then you might not bring all the energy and all the focus you have to the field that day. You might just take it for granted.

“By having depth and knowing it’s not just one person who could play your position, but two or three guys, it definitely pushes you harder and makes it a lot more competitive.”

After a disappointing end to last season, the team is ready to get back on the field with one another. The Toppers will open the season with a three-game series against Bowling Green State this weekend at home.

“We’ve been concentrating a lot on Bowling Green,” Myers said. “It’s a team coming down here literally returning their whole team. Their top 10 hitters are back and seven of their top nine arms are back. So the focus has been on getting ready for them Friday.”

Hageman agreed and said the team has been waiting for opening day since “the day we got here.”

“It’s the competition and the drive,” he said. “Since day one we’ve been looking to play together. We’ve been on opposite sides of the field this entire spring and this entire fall, and I think when we all get in the same dugout it’s gonna be special.”

WKU will be starting Hageman at pitcher tonight, followed by senior Tim Bado on Saturday and Perkins on Sunday. The games will be at 3 p.m., 2 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively.