WKU beats FAU, clinches second straight league series

Brad Stephens

It seems WKU Head Coach Chris Finwood has finally found an answer to his team’s Sunday pitching problems.

For the second consecutive Sun Belt Conference series, Finwood called upon senior right-hander Brian Edelen to come out of the bullpen in a tight game and pitch the Toppers to a win in the finale.

Edelen pitched the final five innings Sunday, giving up two runs and four hits and striking out seven in leading WKU to a 5-4 win over Florida Atlantic in front of 900 at Nick Denes Field.

After losing 4-2 Friday and winning 6-2 Saturday, the Sunday victory allowed WKU (29-19, 14-10 Sun Belt) to win its second consecutive league series.

Until recently, Edelen (5-1) was the Toppers’ Sunday starter.

But after several Sunday bullpen collapses, Finwood decided last Sunday against Louisiana-Monroe to let Edelen work from the back end instead of starting.

Edelen led WKU to a series-clinching victory that day, and then did the same today.

“After the first six weeks of being close and not being able to finish out on Sunday, we just decided, ‘What do we have to lose, let’s try it the other way around.'” Finwood said. “Sometimes things work out the way you plan, and this has been one of those times.”

Edelen made one mistake Sunday, giving up a sixth-inning, leadoff home run off the Denes Field scoreboard courtesy of Owl left fielder Alex Hudak, tying the game at three.

But junior second baseman Ivan Hartle wasted no time taking the lead back for WKU.

With freshman first baseman Jordan Cessna on second and junior left fielder Jared Andreoli on first and two outs, Hartle roped a first pitch offering from reliever Andy Mee down the right-field line for an RBI single.

Cessna scored easily, and then Andreoli chased him home, taking advantage of nonchalant play by Owl right fielder Colby Gratton, scoring all the way from first base on the single and giving the Toppers a 5-3 lead.

“We got some guys on, and I was just looking to be aggressive with two outs and runners in scoring position,” Hartle said of the hit. “I was fortunate enough to get one down the line there.”

Edelen then went to work, retiring the Owls quietly in the seventh and eighth innings.

But he saw a little more adventure when FAU pinch hitter Mike Spano hit a high chopper over Edelen’s head with one out in the ninth inning.

As Edelen raced back to make the play, he stumbled over the back of the mound, falling hard on his back.

Spano reached on the infield single, as coaches and trainers emerged from the Topper dugout to make sure Edelen could go the rest of the way.

The senior stayed in the game, giving up a single and an RBI sacrifice fly, but ending the game with a swinging strikeout of Owl center fielder Nathan Pittman.

Edelen went off the mound triumphantly pumping his fist, saying after the game the Pittman strikeout was a chance for an emotional recovery after his earlier fall.

“I was heading back trying to make that play and got my other foot caught in my shoelace,” Edelen said, smiling. “I took a hard stumble, but I wasn’t going to let them take me out of the game.

“I was really pumped up, and especially after falling and embarrassing myself, I was really happy to come back and get that last out.”

Junior right-hander Phil Wetherell made the start for WKU, going three innings, giving up one hit, one run and one walk, and striking out two.

He surrendered a third-inning single to Pittman that allowed FAU to take an early 1-0 lead.

The Toppers came back to strike for three in the bottom of the frame, as an RBI single from senior catcher Matt Rice, a run-scoring wild pitch, and an RBI groundout from junior center fielder Kes Carter accounted for the three WKU runs.

FAU cut the 3-1 lead in half in the fourth when the first Owl batter to face junior reliever Rye Davis, first baseman Dan Scheffler, hit a home run over the Topper bullpen and onto Avenue of Champions.

Neither team scored again until the sixth inning.

FAU starter R.J. Alvarez lasted just 3 and 2/3 innings, giving up three runs, five hits and two walks, and striking out two.

He didn’t factor in the decision.

Mee, who started the game as designated hitter before taking the mound, saw his record fall to 0-2 on the year.

The win moves WKU into a third-place tie with FAU and Louisiana-Lafayette in league standings, as all three teams stand at 14-10 in Sun Belt play.

The trio trails first-place Troy by three games and is two games back of second-place Florida International.

WKU has a home series with South Alabama next weekend and a three-game road set against Middle Tennessee the following weekend to finish out regular season conference play.

Both the Jaguars and Blue Raiders are in the bottom half of league standings.

With the season winding down, Hartle said the importance of each conference game is magnified.

“It’s so close at the top of the conference right now, every game is huge,” Hartle said. “Especially losing Friday night, that was huge to come back and win the series.”