Hageman’s first complete game sends Tops to 5-1 win over ULL

Nick Bratcher

A battle for second place in the Sun Belt Conference started Friday night as WKU took on Louisiana-Lafayette at Nick Denes Field.

The Toppers (19-11, 7-3 Sun Belt) defeated the Ragin’ Cajuns, 5-1, with a commanding complete-game performance from freshman pitcher Justin Hageman.

Hageman (5-3) grabbed the win in deciding fashion, pitching the full nine innings for the first time in his career and yielding just one run on eight hits.

Hageman, who recorded 10 strikeouts, said reaching the end of the game was a personal victory.

“We had a goal the last couple weeks to have no walks and get through the seventh inning, and it’s been a tough one this year,” he said. “I finally broke through that wall tonight.”

Head Coach Chris Finwood said he moved Hageman to Friday night so the freshman could concentrate on playing first base and hitting the rest of the weekend. Finwood said that despite the move, sophomore Tanner Perkins remains the No.1 starting pitcher for the Toppers.

Finwood said his decision to leave Hageman in stemmed from his pitcher’s disappointment after being relieved with the game tied after six innings in his start at Arkansas-Little Rock last weekend.

Hageman’s replacement at UALR, junior reliever Ross Hammonds, gave up four runs in the seventh inning of that game.

“He’s a horse,” Finwood said of Hageman. “He always wants to be out there. He wanted to fight me in the dugout when I took him out, and I told him after the game that that one was on me.

“With the struggles we’ve had, even him being a little tired is probably our best option.”

Hageman said Finwood’s faith in him will bring more confidence down the road.

“Not being able to get through that seventh inning has hurt my confidence a little bit this year,” he said. “That’s all we’ve been working on doing is trying to get through it — give us a chance to win the game.”

ULL hit the board first as Jordan Poirrer hit an RBI single to right field to give his team an early lead, 1-0, in the third inning, but it would be all WKU from there.

The Toppers answered in the bottom half of the inning by manufacturing some runs, as junior Ryan Hutchison hit an RBI sacrifice fly, and junior Logan Robbins hit an RBI groundout to bring WKU a 2-1 lead.

Robbins, who missed the Toppers’ last six games with a foot infection, said Hageman’s strong pitching performance made it easier to settle back into the lineup.

“I missed the guys like crazy last week,” Robbins said. “It was great to just get back out here today, and our guys did really well. Justin did great and made my night a lot easier. I have to give him credit.”

Senior designated hitter Chris Bullard also got in on the third-inning action, tallying his 11th RBI in the last six games on a single to put WKU ahead, 3-1.

Senior catcher Matt Rice and junior center fielder Kes Carter each added a solo home run in the fifth and eighth innings, respectively, to round out the Toppers’ scoring. Rice now rides a six-game hit streak.

WKU plays the second game of the home series at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Perkins, who is 6-1 this year, will get the nod on the mound. Senior pitcher Brian Edelen is slated to start Sunday’s finale.