WKU eliminated from Sun Belt tournament with 4-2 loss to Troy

Brad Stephens

WKU’s run in the 2011 Sun Belt Conference Tournament, and likely its season, ended Friday with a 4-2 loss to Troy at Warhawk Field in Monroe, La.

The No.1 seeded Trojans (42-17) took the lead in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly from left-fielder Boone Shear that scored second baseman T.J. Rivera.

The run was unearned, as Rivera had advanced from first to third on a throwing error by freshman Topper reliever G.J. Strauss.

Four Troy relievers combined to shut out the fourth-seeded Toppers (33-24) the rest of the way, and the Trojans added a run in the seventh inning to make the final margin 4-2.

Because of tiebreakers in pool play, neither Troy nor WKU will advance to the Sun Belt Tournament Championship Game Sunday against Florida International.

The Golden Panthers will instead face Arkansas-Little Rock Sunday afternoon with the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament at stake.

Troy, ranked No. 21 in the May 23 edition of the Baseball America Top 25, is projected to receive an at-large bid to an NCAA Regional.

The Toppers, rated No. 87 in RPI rankings, are not likely to qualify for the tournament.

Freshman right-hander Justin Hageman started for WKU on Friday but lasted just four innings, giving up two runs, one earned, five hits, and three walks while striking out four.

It was the second appearance in three days for the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year. Hageman made a relief appearance in WKU’s 11-10 defeat of Florida Atlantic on Wednesday.

The Toppers grabbed a 1-0 lead against Troy in the second inning, as sophomore first baseman Ryan Huck knocked in junior shortstop Logan Robbins with an RBI groundout.

WKU’s lead held until the fourth, when Troy took a 2-1 lead after an RBI infield single from Tyson Workman and a run-scoring groundball from third baseman Tyler Hannah.

The Toppers tied the game in the top of the fifth when senior catcher Matt Rice was hit by a pitch with the bases full.

Troy reliever Shane McCain then entered and stopped WKU from having a bigger rally, retiring junior center fielder Kes Carter, Robbins, and junior right fielder Ryan Hutchison with the bases loaded.

McCain (2-2) pitched two perfect innings for Troy to earn the win.

Strauss (2-1) allowed two hits and the lone unearned run and was charged with the loss.

Workman was the star of the game for Troy, going 3-for-5 with an RBI. He also pitched a shutout inning in relief.

Friday’s loss was likely the last game in the careers of WKU seniors Rice and Matt Bracken, who struck out in a pinch hit appearance in the eighth inning. Rice struck out to end the game.

It was also likely the last college game for Carter, who WKU Head Coach Chris Finwood has said is projected to be a high pick in the upcoming MLB Amateur Draft.

The Toppers will also lose senior pitcher Brian Edelen and senior designated hitter Chris Bullard, neither of whom appeared Friday.

It marks the second straight season that WKU has failed to make it back to the NCAA Tournament after qualifying in 2009.