Cleveland fans 11 Toppers on way to UALR win

Senior second baseman Ivan Hartle scores WKU’s only run during the opening game of its home series against Arkansas-Little Rock on Friday at Nick Denes Field. WKU lost 3-1.

Kurt Carson

WKU had trouble getting anything going on Friday night against UALR’s ace.

Trojan right-hander Chance Cleveland recorded 11 strikeouts over seven innings while allowing just one earned run on four hits.

The Toppers’ (10-16, 2-5 Sun Belt Conference) sterilized offense resulted in a 3-1 loss at the hands of UALR (16-10, 3-4) in the series opener at Nick Denes Field.

Head Coach Matt Myers said the way Cleveland performed made it difficult for his team from the get-go.

“He has a really good slider and he threw it any time he wanted to,” Myers said. “He had us guessing and executed better than we did.”

Cleveland began his start by retiring the first nine WKU batters in order through the first three frames.

Sophomore first baseman Scott Wilcox said despite having a few opportunities the Toppers couldn’t capitalize.

“They threw a good arm at us and we knew that coming in,” Wilcox said. “We had to take advantage of our opportunities.”

Sophomore right-hander Justin Hageman started for the Toppers and pitched a solid six innings while allowing two earned runs on six hits and recording eight strikeouts.

Hageman said it was tough going up against Cleveland but that he just tried to remain focused on his pitching.

“I was just trying to keep us in the game,” Hageman said. “I just wanted to put up zeros.”

However the runs he allowed were too much with the way Cleveland performed.

Myers said he’s disappointed that Hageman was charged with a loss despite the strong performance.

“He pitched his butt off,” Myers said. “You hate to have an outing like that wasted on a loss.”

The Trojans got on the board in the top of the second inning on an RBI single by catcher Blake Johnson to put UALR up 1-0.

The Toppers finally got to Cleveland in the fourth inning on an RBI double by senior third baseman Casey Dykes that scored senior second baseman Ivan Hartle and tied the game up at 1-1.

Hageman ran into a roadblock in the sixth despite escaping the inning having allowed just one run.

Two walks, a hit, a balk and a wild pitch allowed the bases to load with two outs in the top of the sixth inning for UALR.

Hageman hit first baseman John Clark with the bases full, plating a run to give the Trojans a 2-1 lead but struck out the ensuing batter to limit the potential damage.

WKU had an opportunity to answer in the bottom of the sixth inning when the middle of the lineup made some noise with two outs.

Wilcox doubled down the right-field line, junior designated hitter Blake Crabtree reached on an error and junior left fielder Adam Lavelle walked to load the bases for the Toppers with two outs.

However junior catcher Devin Kelly struck out swinging to end the threat and leave the bases loaded.

Wilcox accounted for three of the team’s five hits in a 3-for-4 effort, raising his batting average to .333.

UALR didn’t hesitate to add insurance runs against WKU junior right-hander Taylor Haydel in the seventh inning.

An RBI single by left fielder Sean Bignall brought home right fielder Myles Parma to give the Trojans a 3-1 lead.

The Toppers got just one runner in scoring position over the last three frames and were unable to cut into UALR’s lead.

WKU will look to even the series on Saturday as it takes on the Trojans at 3 Nick Denes Field. Junior left-hander Tim Bado (3.60 ERA) will take the mound for the Toppers while right-hander Blake Huffman (4.46 ERA) gets the start for UALR.