Stranded runners cost WKU in 4-2 loss to FAU

Brad Stephens

WKU had plenty of chances Friday night against Florida Atlantic.

But, like in several other losses this season, stranded runners cost the Toppers a chance at a much-needed Sun Belt Conference home win.

WKU left 12 men on base and fell 4-2 to FAU in front of 896 at Nick Denes Field.

The loss drops the Toppers’ record to 27-19 and 12-10 in league play, two games behind the second-place Owls.

WKU Head Coach Chris Finwood said the 12 stranded runners was the sole reason his Toppers lost.

“That was the ballgame,” Finwood said. “(FAU) got two more hits with runners in scoring position than we did, and when you get one hit with runners in scoring position, you’re not going to win a lot of games.”

WKU left the bases loaded in the first inning when junior shortstop Logan Robbins flied out to deep center with two outs.

The Toppers then stranded two more in the second when junior left fielder Jared Andreoli grounded out to Owl starter Ryan Garton with runners on first and second.

While WKU wasted its early chances, FAU was able to reach Topper sophomore left-handed starter Tanner Perkins for four runs in the game’s first four innings.

The Owls scored a run in the second on a sacrifice fly from designated hitter Eddie Cassidy, then scored in the third on a groundout from second baseman Raymond Church.

They added their third and fourth runs of the game in the fourth inning on a Cassidy RBI single and a sacrifice fly from right fielder Andy Mee.

Going into Friday’s game, Finwood said he was looking for at least eight innings from Perkins to avoid having to turn to what has been a shaky WKU bullpen.

But Perkins threw 123 pitches over just 6 and 1/3 innings and had to be taken out of the game before Finwood said he would have preferred.

“Tanner hasn’t gotten any wins over his last four starts, and one of the reasons is that his pitch counts have gotten ridiculously high,” Finwood said. “He’s just wasting way too many pitches, missing on his arm side.

“He’s got to be more economical out there so he doesn’t have 120 pitches in the sixth inning.”

WKU was finally able to push runners of its own across in the sixth inning, as an Andreoli double scored junior third baseman Casey Dykes.

Junior second baseman Ivan Hartle also scored on the play after an errant relay throw, cutting the lead to 4-2.

Senior catcher Matt Rice had a chance to drive Andreoli home and cut the lead to one, but he struck out swinging at a high fastball to end the inning.

The Toppers had chances at rallies in the seventh and eighth innings against left-handed reliever Ahmed Garcia, but again couldn’t take advantage.

Owl closer Hugh Adams then pitched a perfect ninth to seal the 4-2 FAU victory.

Absent from the WKU lineup Friday was sophomore first baseman Ryan Huck, who underwent a procedure to have his appendix removed Wednesday morning.

Freshman Jordan Cessna played first base in Huck’s absence, going 1-for-4.

Dykes said the team misses Huck, who has hit .346 in Sun Belt play, in the lineup but isn’t using his injury as an excuse.

“We trust everybody who’s in that lineup every day to come out and be able to get the job done,” said Dykes, who went 3-for-4 with a run scored Friday. “Huck was on fire the last two weeks, and it was nice having him in there, but you can’t look at that and think that’s the reason we’re not driving in runs.”

The Toppers and Owls have a quick turnaround, as they’ll play game two of the series tomorrow at noon at Nick Denes Field.

The start time was recently moved up from its original slot of 3 p.m. to accommodate Sun Belt Network television.

WKU freshman right-hander Justin Hageman (7-4, 3.42 ERA) will oppose FAU right-hander Paul Davis (8-1, 2.72 ERA).

Dykes said Friday’s loss magnifies the importance of the rest of WKU’s conference games.

“There’s been some games in the past we’ve let slip away in conference, now it’s hard to catch up,” Dykes said. “We can’t let that happen anymore if we want to do anything with this season.”