Toppers salvage series finale in first weekend

Junior catcher Ryan Huck reacts after tagging out a Toledo player in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday at Nick Denes Field. WKU lost 7-6 but came back to win the final game of the weekend series.

Kurt Carson

WKU stumbled out of the gates on Opening Weekend at Nick Denes Field.

The Toppers (1-2) fell to Toledo 5-2 in their opener on Friday and lost the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday 7-6.

The two losses were characterized by a quiet WKU offense and shaky releif pitching.

But the bats finally came to life for WKU in the second game of the doubleheader and helped the Toppers earn their first victory of the season, 9-3.

Head Coach Matt Myers said he finally saw the execution he had wanted to see all series long in the last game.

“I told the guys that was what I wanted to see from day one,” Myers said. “It took a couple of games to get the jitters out, but we played loose, we executed better — you saw the way we ran the bases and we played free.

“That’s what I wanted the guys to do — to turn it loose.”

Senior second baseman Ivan Hartle went 7-for-14 over the weekend, recording three doubles, a triple and three RBI.

Meanwhile senior center fielder Jared Andreoli went 5-for-9 with two RBI and four runs scored on Saturday after being held hitless on Opening Day.

“It’s early in the year, and that’s the kind of things you want to see,” Andreoli said of the win in the series finale. “We didn’t give up at all, and we kept battling.

“That’s only going to help us later in the year. It’s not necessarily how you start — it’s how you finish.”

Louisville freshman left-handed pitcher Ian Tompkins said the offensive spark gave him the motivation he needed to earn the win in his first college start.

“All my teammates were telling me, ‘Just get us a scoreless first inning and we’ll be right behind you,’ and they were,” Tompkins said. “They got one in the first and two in the second and it was smooth sailing from there.”

The bullpen then finished on a high note after turning in poor performances over the first two games, allowing just one run on three hits over four innings.

It was a far different result than the first two games, during which the Toppers’ bullpen allowed a combined seven runs to cross the plate in just five innings.

“I’ve said all along the bullpen is my biggest concern,” Myers said. “Not that we don’t have enough guys to do it, but it’s getting the experience.”

Sophomore right-hander Justin Hageman and junior left-hander Tim Bado, WKU’s scheduled Saturday and Sunday starting pitchers, are dealing with injuries that kept them out of the weekend series.

With the rotation not quite set the way it was intended to be, Myers said he’s unsure who will start the Toppers next game when they take on Tennessee, his alma mater, at 2 p.m. on Tuesday at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.

He said most likely they’ll use a pitcher-by-committee type system with the starter going no more than one or two innings and five or six pitchers taking the mound over the course of the game.

Myers did say there was a good chance Hageman would get some work in pitching at some point in the game.

“It’s an unbelievable challenge any time you have an SEC opponent at their place,” Myers said. “We’re going down there to focus. These guys are ready.”