Bullpen falters late in Toppers’ season-opening loss

Senior infielder Ivan Hartle misses the ball during a game Friday against Toledo Denes Field. WKU lost 5-2.

Kurt Carson

WKU fell short Friday by a score of 5-2 against Toledo in its season-opener.

The Toppers tied the game up late, only to see the bullpen surrender three ninth-inning runs to the Rockets in front of 857 fans at Nick Denes Field.

Junior left-hander Tanner Perkins started for WKU and struggled through his first two innnings, with no help from an error on the part of junior left fielder Adam Lavelle that ended up costing the team a first-inning run.

Perkins’ only earned run came on a second-inning home run by Toledo shortstop Dan Zuchowski that put WKU down 2-0.

After giving up the solo home run, Perkins settled down and cruised through his next five innings.

Head Coach Matt Myers said Perkins’ ability to remain focused and “calm down” spoke a lot of the 2012 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference team selection.

“It shows the maturity level of Tanner,” Myers said. “They got to him quick and then five straight zero’s. Good pitchers, when they have the opportunity, will take advantage.”

Perkins finished the game with seven innings pitched, surrendering just one earned run on four hits.

He credited his ability to get back on track after the second inning to the trust he has with the defense behind him.

“I just trusted the guys behind me,” Perkins said. “I didn’t have my best stuff on the mound and that’s where our trust factor came in.”

But WKU’s offense remained stagnant and gave Perkins little run support.

The Toppers accumulated just five hits and one run over the first seven innings of the game.

WKU had a chance to tie it up in the bottom of the seventh inning with runners on first and second and only one out, but the threat ended when junior catcher Devin Kelly struck out swinging and Lavelle was caught stealing third on an attempted hit-and-run.

Myers has repeatedly said this team will play a lot of “small ball” and said he thought it’d be a good situation to utilize that.

“We couldn’t really get anything going,” Myers said. “I think there’s certain times to do it. But tip your hat to their guy on the mound. Sometimes they dictate what you can and cannot do.”

Junior right-hander Mike Hamann started for Toledo and pitched seven innings, allowing only one run on five hits.

The Toppers were finally able to make some noise after Hamaan exited the game.

Sophomore right-hander Justin Hageman, previously scratched from his Saturday start because of elbow tendinitis, tied the game up at 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning with his pinch-hit single that scored senior second baseman Ivan Hartle.

However, the bullpen couldn’t keep the game tied for long, allowing three base runners to cross the plate for Toledo in the top of the ninth inning.

Two runs were credited to senior right-hander Ross Hammonds while another was surrendered by junior right-hander Taylor Haydel who gave up three hits in just two-and-a-third innings of work.

The 5-2 deficit was too much for the Toppers to overcome.

Hartle said it’s a tough loss to take but they have to get ready for tomorrow’s game.

“It’s disappointing obviously,” Hartle said. “You know you want to come out and win on opening day.

“We had some opportunities and had some good swings too. We just didn’t get the bounces so much today but we’ll come out tomorrow and try to clean it up.”

WKU will look to even the series tomorrow as they take on Toledo at 2 p.m. at Nick Denes Field.

Sophomore left-hander Austin Clay will pitch for the Toppers, opposing Rockets right-hander Alex Radon.

Perkins said the team “has to flush” Friday’s result and move on to Saturday.

“If we come out tomorrow and play the same way we did, maybe the balls will fall for us and have a more positive outcome,” he said.