WKU needed a big outing from freshman right-hander Justin Hageman Saturday against Florida Atlantic.
The Hopkinsville native responded with his second career complete game, leading the Toppers to a 6-2 win over FAU in front of 755 at Nick Denes Field.
WKU came into Saturday trailing first-place Troy in the Sun Belt Conference by four games after losing 4-2 to the Owls Friday.
The day got off to a bad start for the Toppers, as Hageman gave up a two-run home run to FAU shortstop Nick Delguidice in the second inning.
But those were the last runs Hageman (8-4) would surrender all day.
Topper Head Coach Chris Finwood said after the game that his star freshman Hageman is “just a different beast.”
“He’s a great competitor, he always thinks he’s going to win,” Finwood said. “He gives up the home run there, and that was it. That might have been his best performance of the year considering the circumstances.”
WKU had early opportunities, stranding six runners through the first three innings.
The Toppers got on the board in the fifth off Owl starter Paul Davis when junior left fielder Jared Andreoli scored on a throwing error committed by Delguidice.
WKU trailed 2-1 going into the seventh when it struck for five runs to take the decisive 6-2 advantage.
The rally started with a one-out single from Andreoli off FAU reliever Jake Meiers.
He scored for the second time of the game when junior second baseman Ivan Hartle hit a game-tying triple to right-center.
Following a swinging strikeout of senior catcher Matt Rice, Meiers (3-5) was pulled in favor of left-handed reliever Josh Gonzaga.
Gonzaga gave up the go-ahead RBI single to junior center fielder Kes Carter.
Carter moved to third one batter later when junior right fielder Ryan Hutchison doubled to the left-center field gap, setting up a big RBI chance for junior shortstop Logan Robbins.
Robbins wasted no time, roping the first pitch into left field for a two-RBI single that pushed the WKU lead to 5-2.
“Coach told us to go up there aggressive and not miss a pitch,” Robbins said. “(Gonzaga) tried to get the first pitch over, and I didn’t want to miss it.”
The Toppers rounded out the scoring when Robbins scored on a single from freshman pinch hitter Scott Wilcox.
The four runs were plenty of support for Hageman, who pitched the eighth and ninth innings unscathed.
Hageman, who threw 131 pitches Saturday, said there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to throw a complete game.
“I want the ball when the game is on the line,” Hageman said. “I didn’t notice what my pitch count was or anything like that, but the guys came out in the seventh inning and gave me five runs, and I felt like I should throw them two more zeros.”
After saying Friday that the Toppers lacked energy in the series opener, Finwood said the team was more emotionally charged on Saturday.
“You get energy by getting big hits,” Finwood said. “All of a sudden you get a couple, the crowd gets into it, and everybody’s energized. When we get it going we can have big innings.”
WKU and FAU will meet for the rubber match of the three-game series Sunday at noon.
The Owls will send sophomore right-hander R.J. Alvarez (6-3, 4.25 ERA) to the mound.
Finwood said he still doesn’t know who will start for the Toppers, but that senior right-hander Brian Edelen will pitch significant innings in relief.