A major struggle for WKU hitters in the 2012 season has been hitting for power, with the team tied for last in the Sun Belt Conference in home runs (9) entering this weekend’s series versus Louisiana-Lafeyette.
For comparison, league leader Arkansas Little-Rock had 32.
But the Toppers found what they’ve been missing in their 6-2 opening series victory vs. ULL on Friday night in Lafayette, La., as the offense had several big hits in clutch situations, including two home runs and two triples.
“We had a good approach against a very good pitching staff,” Head Coach Matt Myers told WKU’s Big Red Radio Network. “The confidence in that dugout now, it’s like a race to the bat rack.”
WKU (13-17, 5-5 Sun Belt) found its big bats early on versus the Rajun’ Cajuns (13-16, 4-7), with two runs scored in the first inning via long balls.
Senior third baseman Casey Dykes extended his consecutive game hitting streak to eight with a solo home run, with the other score coming via an RBI triple from senior right fielder Ryan Hutchison.
The power hits continued with a Hutchison solo home run in the fourth, and the game’s single biggest play from senior center fielder Jared Andreoli in the top of the seventh inning.
Holding a slim one run lead, WKU had runners on first and second after a double by junior catcher Devin Kelly and senior second baseman Ivan Hartle reached on a walk.
With the game hanging in the balance and Andreoli up to bat for the Toppers, the ULL coaching staff brought in relief thrower Matt Hicks to replace starting pitcher Jordan Nicholson.
With only one out remaining for the Toppers and facing a 2-1 pitching count, Andreoli crushed a deep triple to right-center field, scoring Hartle and Kelly in the process.
Andreoli had never hit against Hicks before, which is often an advantage to the pitcher because the hitter has to try to gauge how the pitcher throws.
“But Casey (Dykes) actually played in a summer league with him (Hicks),” Andreoli said. “He (Dykes) gave me a pretty good scouting report, which really helped.”
After tacking on an additional run from another Dykes hit, this one an RBI single, WKU was now able to start the bottom of the seventh inning with a much more manageable lead of 6-2.
“Five of the six runs were two out runs,” Myers said. “I always think two out runs almost count as double, that’s such a backbreaking thing from a defensive standpoint.”
Senior right-hander Ross Hammonds proceeded to strike out all three Rajun’ Cajun batters he faced in the seventh, shutting the door on any potential ULL scoring retaliation.
WKU sophomore pitcher Justin Hageman earned the victory on the mound for the Toppers, giving up only three hits through five innings.
WKU will try to improve to 6-5 in conference plays as it resumes the ULL series at 6 p.m. on Saturday.