WKU loses 5-4 to ULM on walk-off home run

Brad Stephens

Stranded runners and a faulty bullpen have become a broken record for WKU.

After struggling with runners in scoring position and relief pitching all year, both haunted the Toppers in a 5-4, walk-off loss to Louisiana-Monroe Friday at Warhawk Field.

Junior reliever Ross Hammonds gave up two home runs in 1 and 1/3 innings of work, including the game-winning shot to catcher Jarrett Hammond.

WKU (25-17, 10-9 Sun Belt Conference) has now lost its last five conference games and last four games overall.

The Toppers certainly had their chances Friday, collecting 12 hits and putting runners on base in seven different innings.

But WKU stranded 13 runners during the game, frustrating Head Coach Chris Finwood.

“We couldn’t seem to get any big hits, and they obviously got a couple there,” Finwood said to WKU’s Big Red Radio after the game. “We didn’t lose that game in the last inning. We lost it during the course of the game. We had five or six innings with runners in scoring position and couldn’t get them in.

“We just didn’t want to win bad enough, I guess.”

The Toppers stranded four total runners in the first and second before scoring the game’s first two runs in the third inning.

Junior center fielder Kes Carter hit a sacrifice fly, and junior right fielder Ryan Hutchison hit an RBI single to account for the runs.

Hammond hit a home run off WKU sophomore left-hander Tanner Perkins in the fifth inning to tie the game at 2-2.

The Toppers retook a two-run lead in the sixth thanks to a sacrifice fly from junior shortstop Logan Robbins and RBI sacrifice fly from junior left fielder Jared Andreoli.

WKU could’ve struck for more, but junior second baseman Ivan Hartle popped to first with two outs to leave the bases loaded.

Perkins allowed the Warhawks to cut the lead to one in the seventh when Joey Rapp singled home Shane Ardoin with two outs.

Finwood said he was unhappy that Perkins gave up the hit in that situation.

“We give up a cheap hit to one of their better hitters with first base open and a lefty (second baseman Caleb Clowers) coming up,” Finwood said. “You can’t give up that run in the seventh inning. And he knows that.”

Perkins took home a no-decision after pitching seven innings, giving up nine hits, a walk and three earned runs, and striking out seven.

Hammonds replaced Perkins in the eighth and gave up a leadoff home run to ULM third baseman Judd Edwards to tie the game, 4-4.

WKU put runners on second and third in the top of the ninth, but senior pinch hitter Chris Bullard struck out whiffing to end the threat.

That set the stage for Hammond’s one-out, walk-off homer down the left-field line.

WKU will look to end the five-game Sun Belt skid in the second game of the series Saturday at 6 p.m.

Finwood will send freshman right-hander Justin Hageman (6-4, 3.23 ERA) to the mound to oppose Warhawk left-hander Randy Ziegler (4-3, 4.17 ERA).

Finwood said he’ll hope for a better performance from his Toppers Saturday than what they delivered Friday.

“We’re just doing just enough to get beat right now,” he said.