Edelen comes out strong in new role

Senior pitcher Brian Edelen has been WKU’s Sunday starter for most of the season but was used out of the bullpen last weekend. Edelen earned his first save of the season Saturday night and picked up a win Sunday in a relief appearance.

Brad Stephens

Things seemed to be unraveling for WKU Saturday night.

The Toppers had an 8-1 lead over Louisiana-Monroe at one point, but the Warhawks had clawed the deficit to 8-5 with four eighth-inning runs off freshman starter Justin Hageman and sophomore reliever Taylor Haydel.

With two outs in the eighth, it was decision time for WKU Head Coach Chris Finwood.

He needed to find someone to shut the door on ULM and end the Toppers’ five-game Sun Belt Conference losing streak.

In the past, Finwood has turned to junior relievers Phil Wetherell, Ross Hammonds and Rye Davis in those situations.

But all three have had their share of inconsistencies in 2011, so Finwood decided to try something new. He brought in senior right-hander Brian Edelen, typically WKU’s Sunday starter.

Edelen came in and pitched an inning and a third of perfect baseball, striking out three and earning the save.

Things also looked dire for the Toppers Sunday, trailing ULM 4-1 in the fourth inning.

Warhawk batters were having their way with Wetherell and freshman Brian Doering, and Finwood again needed a reliever to stop the bleeding.

For the second day in a row, that man was Edelen.

Edelen pitched 5 and 2/3 innings, giving up just one run on two hits and earning the win, as WKU claimed a dramatic, series-clinching 7-5 victory.

Finwood was jubilant in talking about Edelen’s “phenomenal” outing to WKU Big Red Radio following the game.

“I can’t say enough about Brian Edelen’s performance this weekend,” Finwood said. “He was just phenomenal doing what he did last night. Then he went out there today running on fumes, and just wanted to keep going back out.

“I’m just so proud of him.”

Edelen has been consistent all season, owning a 4-1 record and a 4.15 ERA.

But his defined pitching role has changed through the course of the year.

He started out the season as the team’s midweek starter before replacing Haydel in the Sunday role.

Now that he’s being used as a reliever, Edelen said he “takes pride” in being a pitcher that can work in various situations.

“It shows the coaches’ confidence in me to do different things and get outs for the team,” Edelen said. “It’s my goal to start, but I’ll do what the team needs me to do.”

Edelen has been on the unlucky side of several bullpen collapses during conference play.

One example was when he left in the sixth inning of the Toppers’ March 27 game against Florida International with a 5-2 lead.

But Hammonds, Wetherell and Davis all allowed runs to score, and WKU lost 9-8 to the Golden Panthers in 10 innings.

Sophomore Tanner Perkins, the Toppers’ Friday starter is another pitcher who, like Edelen, has seen potential wins blown by the bullpen.

He said none of those losses are a reflection on Edelen.

“He keeps us in every game he pitches in,” Perkins said. “That’s all you can ask for from a starting pitcher.”

Now with just three regular-season Sun Belt series left to play, it remains to be seen whether Edelen will be tossing from the bullpen or from the rotation.

But he said he has one primary goal for the end of his senior season — to pitch in an NCAA Regional.

“I’d like to pitch in a Regional as one of those top 64 teams in the nation,” Edelen said. “I’d like to pitch well, start one of those games and have a great game.”