WKU baseball returns for fall practice

WKU Black team catcher Ty Hogan fires a throw to first base during the Black and Red inter-squad game at Nick Denes Field. The Red team won by a final score of 8-0 in 8 innings.

Tyler Lashbrook

The Toppers are back on the field months before their February opener.

WKU held its first official fall practice on Sept. 18 and will continue practicing until its annual Fall World Series on Oct. 26-28.

The fall practice provides a way to establish a team identity, head coach Matt Myers said.

“We need cohesiveness,” Myers said. “We’re teaching the game of baseball and evaluating individually all of our players.”

Myers joined the WKU coaching staff in 2007 and was named head coach in July 2011 after former coach Chris Finwood left for Old Dominion.

The Toppers went 25-33 last season, Myers’ first at the helm.

Myers said he’s excited to have new faces mix in with returning players like junior right-hander Justin Hageman, junior utility player Scott Wilcox and senior catcher Ryan Huck.

The Toppers are bringing in 16 new faces this year with the hopes that nearly all of them can come in and help out right away in the field, in the lineup and on the mound.

Myers raved about each of the new guys individually but thought a few in particular could make an immediate impact on the mound.

“(Junior right-hander) Andrew Edwards, (junior right-hander) Jake Thompson and (junior right-hander) Mason Justice are junior college guys that can come in and help right away,” Myers said.

But Myers also wants to see how his returning guys have improved through their summer programs.

Wilcox was the only Hilltopper to start all 58 games last season. He was third on the team with a .276 batting average and led WKU with 46 walks.

Wilcox said he played “decent” last year but thought he began to tail off near the end of the year.

“I want to finish strong and continue playing well all throughout the year,” Wilcox said.

Sophomore left-hander Austin Clay burst onto the scene last season with 11 starts for the WKU pitching staff.  

He was second among WKU starters with a 4.74 ERA and allowed just 19 walks on the season.

Clay was named to the Great Lakes League All-Star Game this summer for the work he put in on the mound with the Lexington Hustlers.

He went 3-0 in the summer league and boasted a 2.82 ERA.

Clay is building upon his breakout year by focusing on throwing strikes in fall practices.

“Wins and losses don’t count in the fall,” Clay said. “You just want to make sure you got all your stuff and stay consistent.”

The Toppers were just 13-17 in the Sun Belt Conference last year, but young talent across the field has players and coaches excited for the 2013 campaign.

“We’ve got a lot to improve on with only 25 wins, but we’ve got a good group of guys coming in here,” Wilcox said. “We’re expecting a lot out of ourselves this year.”