FIU outlasts WKU 6-5 in series opener

Junior shortstop Steve Hodgins gets caught between third base and home while running to home plate on Friday night at Nick Denes Field. WKU lost 6-5 to Florida International.

Kurt Carson

The Toppers had an answer almost every time Florida International scored Friday night.

Both WKU and FIU matched each other’s scoring in every frame through the first eight innings.

But when the Panthers (9-11, 1-3 Sun Belt Conference) took a 6-5 lead in the top of the ninth inning WKU (9-13, 1-3) had no answer as it fell to defeat at Nick Denes Field.

Junior shortstop Steve Hodgins said he thought the team did well battling back despite falling short in the end.

“We competed with them but they came out aggressive and had more competitive at-bats than us,” Hodgins said.

With senior right-hander Ross Hammonds on the mound for the Toppers in the top of the ninth inning, FIU right fielder Nathan Burns hit a two-out RBI single that plated a run and gave the Panthers a 6-5 lead.

Every other time FIU had scored the Toppers always tied it back up in the bottom half of the inning.

However, in the bottom of the ninth WKU stranded the tying run on base and ended the game in a 6-5 loss.

Both WKU and FIU put up two runs in each of the first two innings.

The Golden Panthers got the scoring started in a two-run first inning capped off by an RBI double from third baseman Mike Martinez that gave FIU a 2-0 lead.

However WKU responded with two runs of its own in the bottom half of the first inning with the help of three FIU errors.

FIU finished the game having been charged with six errors.

Although they scored runs early, Head Coach Matt Myers said 11 runners left on base could have been different if they would’ve taken better advantage of the defensive mishaps.

“We knew they had struggled on defense,” Myers said. “You don’t get many opportunities so you’ve got to take advantage.”

The Toppers and Panthers would each plate two more runs in the second inning that tied the score at 4-4 after two innings.

Both teams were held scoreless over the next five frames.

A rain delay after the fifth inning caused approximately an hour-long stoppage of play that ended the day for both starting pitchers — WKU sophomore right-hander Justin Hageman and FIU left-hander Mason McVay.

Hageman finished five innings allowing four earned runs on eight hits.

After waiting out the rain the Panthers broke through again in the top of the eighth inning on an RBI single by Martinez that gave FIU another lead at 5-4.

The Toppers once again countered with a run of their own on a bases-loaded walk drawn by senior second baseman Ivan Hartle that tied it up at five.

However with the bases still loaded and just one out WKU was unable to tack on any more runs to take a lead heading into the ninth inning where FIU would win it 6-5.

Myers said that was the key opportunity that his team missed.

“We had bases loaded in the eighth with one out and we didn’t get a ball to the outfield to get that guy in,” Myers said. “They came back with a way to make contact.”

Though the Toppers came back to tie the game on three separate occasions they never led.

WKU and FIU will meet up for game two of the series at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Nick Denes Field.