WKU falls for fourth consecutive Friday, loses 6-3 to South Alabama

Brad Stephens

If WKU is to win its last home series of the year, the Toppers will have to do it the hard way.

WKU fell 6-3 Friday to South Alabama in front of a crowd of 821 at Nick Denes Field, and has now lost four consecutive Sun Belt Conference weekend series openers.

The loss, coupled with Florida Atlantic’s 3-1 win over Arkansas-Little Rock, means WKU has fallen into a fourth-place tie in the Sun Belt standings with Louisiana-Lafayette.

WKU (29-20, 14-11 Sun Belt) and the Ragin’ Cajuns both trail the league-leading Trojans by four games with just five conference games left to play.

The Toppers’ Friday loss to the Jaguars can be attributed to the fourth and sixth innings, in which South Alabama scored three runs apiece.

They took advantage of a subpar night from WKU sophomore left-hander Tanner Perkins.

Perkins threw 5 and 2/3 innings, giving up six runs — four of which were earned — eight hits and two walks, while striking out two.

Head Coach Chris Finwood said after the game he thinks Perkins “looks tired.”

“He doesn’t look like the same guy, and the confidence level isn’t the same with him right now,” Finwood said. “He’s leaving balls up, and his changeup doesn’t have the same the same sink.”

Perkins (6-4) broke out of the gates with six wins in his first seven starts of 2011, but has yet to notch a win since an April 1 start against UALR.

While Perkins struggled on the mound, the Toppers also made costly mistakes on the base paths and on defense.

Junior center fielder Kes Carter got caught in a rundown between third base and home on a groundball to third hit by junior shortstop Logan Robbins with one out in second inning, dulling a WKU rally.

Senior catcher Matt Rice was tagged out at home during a similar play with one out in the sixth.

One batter later, junior right fielder Ryan Hutchison committed WKU’s third costly base-running error of the game when he was picked off at first base, ending the inning and stranding Carter at third.

Junior second baseman Ivan Hartle added a sixth-inning throwing error on a spinning throw that sailed wide right of a covering Robbins, paving the way for two unearned Jaguar runs.

“Everything’s going to get magnified on Friday night,” Finwood said. “There’s usually not a ton of runs scored, so you’ve got to be more solid. Fundamentally, we just weren’t good enough tonight.”

WKU struck first in the second inning when sophomore first baseman Ryan Huck scored Robbins on an RBI double down the right field line.

It was Huck’s first time in the lineup since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on May 3.

Huck said he now feels fine, but said the happenings of the past two weeks came as a “complete shock.”

“It came out of nowhere, but it was good to get it done now instead of conference tournament time,” Huck said. “I thought it was going to be a little longer (to come back) but having the week off to do nothing really helped.”

South Alabama took a 3-1 lead in the fourth thanks to an RBI double from first baseman Brandon Hook, an RBI single from second baseman Hunt Griffith and an RBI fielder’s choice hit by center fielder Taylor White.

WKU third baseman Casey Dykes cut the Jaguar lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth when he scored on a throwing error committed by South Alabama shortstop Logan Kirkland.

But the Jaguars answered with three runs in the top of the sixth.

Hook scored on the Hartle error, White hit an RBI single, and left fielder Jeff DeBlieux contributed an RBI sacrifice bunt that gave South Alabama a 6-2 lead.

WKU cut the deficit to three in the bottom of the ninth when Hutchison hit a leadoff home run that just cleared the left field wall.

But South Alabama starter Garrett Harris retired the next three Topper batters in order, ending the game.

Harris (7-3) pitched all nine innings for South Alabama, giving up nine hits, three runs — two of which were earned — and two walks while striking out six.

WKU will now look to do on Saturday and Sunday what they did in their previous two series’ against ULM and FAU, which is win the final two games of the series after dropping the opener.

Finwood will call on freshman right-hander Justin Hageman (8-4, 3.26 ERA, 73 SO) to take the mound for WKU against Jaguar right-hander Dustin Crenshaw (6-1, 3.84, 52.)

Hageman is coming off a complete game, two-run performance last Saturday against the Owls, and Finwood said he expects another big outing from the Hopkinsville native.

“We’re going to need to get on Justin’s back,” Finwood said. “We’ve just got to play better than we did tonight.”