WKU set for last home series in three weeks

Kurt Carson

WKU (10-15, 2-4 Sun Belt) will be looking for a big series win this weekend as it hosts Arkansas-Little Rock (15-10, 2-4).

The Toppers have played every weekend series but one at home at this point in the 2012 campaign.

However, after this weekend, WKU won’t have any home-field advantage until April 20.

Senior third baseman Casey Dykes said he knows how big a series victory would be heading into their nine-game road trip.

“Everyone’s kind of beating up each other so far in conference,” Dykes said. “Winning the series would be big in getting some momentum going into the middle of the conference season.”

With injured junior left-hander Tanner Perkins “probably a long time” from coming back, Head Coach Matt Myers said sophomore right-hander Justin Hageman will take on an even larger role.

“It’s huge,” Myers said. “He has to take the role of being the number one, where before, we had two number ones coming in to start the season. Justin’s got Friday night stuff.”

Hageman comes in to the weekend having pitched to a 4.96 ERA over his last three starts and since Perkins went down — considerably lower than his overall season ERA of 6.75.

However, Myers said just because Hageman will be stepping in to the No. 1 role doesn’t mean he needs to change who he is as a pitcher.

“It’s not so much on him — he just needs to do what he can do,” Myers said. “He doesn’t need to be different than what he is.”

Hageman said he holds true to that same mindset whenever he steps on the mound.

“It doesn’t really change what I do. I just go out there and throw the ball,” Hageman said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s on Friday, Saturday, Tuesday, Sunday, Monday night — it’s the same job.”

With injuries affecting the pitching staff, Myers said one thing that could help is a spark in the offense.

The Toppers will especially be in need of an increase in offensive production going up against a Trojans team that is fourth in the nation with an average of 8.6 runs per game.

“Some of the things that help the pitching is trying to get some more runs on the board to try to take some pressure off some of those guys,” Myers said. “It’d be sure nice to give them some cushion and insurance.”

Over the last two games, the Toppers have accumulated 13 runs on 17 hits and seem to be making a little more noise at the plate.

Hageman said he has confidence that the lineup will continue its momentum and keep things going this weekend.

“I think we’re going to come out, and we’re going to catch on fire real soon,” Hageman said. “People are starting to hit the ball. I think it’s all going to come together.”

Myers has been mixing things up lately to try and ignite the bats in his lineup such as moving Dykes from the latter part of the batting order to cleanup.

Dykes has posted a .333 batting average since the lineup change.

“Coach has been trying to change some things up just to get everything going, and I kind of like it, being in that spot,” Dykes said. “Anywhere where I have the opportunity to help this offense get going, I’ll take it.”

Dykes said the offense will need to get going in order to find success against a UALR team he described as “scrappy.”

“They’ve been playing well,” Dykes said. “We’re going to have to come out and play our best ball every day and win the series this weekend.”

The series begins Friday with first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m. at Nick Denes Field.