Early runs and Perkins’ dominance lead to 14-3 WKU win over UALR

Brad Stephens

Six early-inning runs plus another outstanding start from Tanner Perkins equaled a 14-3 WKU demolition of Arkansas-Little Rock Friday night.

The Toppers’ road win broke a three-game losing streak.

It also allowed WKU to stay in first place in the Sun Belt Conference standings with a 6-1 league record, and it moved the team’s overall mark to 17-9.

Meanwhile, UALR dropped to 11-14 overall and 2-5 in Sun Belt play.

WKU struck quickly with three first-inning runs after an RBI fielder’s choice from junior right fielder Ryan Hutchison and a two-run single off the bat of junior third baseman Casey Dykes.

The Toppers pushed their lead to 6-0 in the second inning thanks to a run-scoring fielding error from Trojan third baseman Casey McCollum and a two-RBI double to left-center from junior center fielder Kes Carter.

The six early runs gave sophomore left-hander Tanner Perkins plenty of cushion.

Perkins pitched seven shutout innings before being replaced by freshman right-hander Brian Doering going into the bottom of the eighth inning with a 14-0 lead.

Perkins gave up four hits and a walk, struck out eight and moved his record to 6-1 on the year in seven starts.

“It all starts with Tanner, and he gave us another great performance,” Topper Head Coach Chris Finwood told WKU’s Big Red Radio following the game. “Tanner could’ve certainly gone another two innings, but we needed him to save those pitches for later on this year.”

While Perkins put in his usual performance, WKU’s lineup got a more unexpected boost from senior designated hitter Chris Bullard.

Bullard smashed a fourth-inning grand slam that Finwood described as a “no-brainer,” which pushed the Toppers’ lead to 11-0.

It was the first career grand slam for Bullard, who is more well known for his former role as a linebacker on the WKU football team.

He also added another RBI on an eighth-inning double to left.

Bullard’s five RBIs Friday doubled his 2011 season totals.

“I’ve been saying it to people that Chris is starting to figure it out,” Finwood said. “His batting practices are getting better, his pitch recognition is getting better, and he’s such an awesome kid that you just can’t help but root for him.”

However Bullard wasn’t the only Topper hitter to have a big night.

Carter collected his 150th career hit on a fifth-inning double and went 4-for-5 with three doubles, two RBIs and a walk.

Dykes went 2-for-5 with a walk, two RBIs and two runs scored, and now has five RBIs in WKU’s last two games.

And Hutchison turned in a solid 3-for-6 performance, knocking in three runs and scoring two himself.

UALR’s Garret Graziano picked up the loss after getting shelled for six runs — five earned — four hits and six walks over just three innings of work.

The Toppers will look to carry the momentum from Friday into a 4 p.m. matchup with the Trojans Saturday afternoon.

WKU will send freshman right-hander Justin Hageman to the mound. The Hopkinsville native is 4-3 in his first season as a Topper with an ERA of 3.00.

He is 2-0 in the first two Sun Belt starts of his career.

Hageman will oppose UALR senior right-hander Travis Henke, who is 1-1 with a team-best 2.96 ERA.

Finwood said the 14 runs scored by his team Friday don’t guarantee another rout Saturday.

“You don’t get any extra runs on Saturday because you got after them on Friday,” Finwood said. “It’s 0-0 when the game starts, so we’ll have to come out with our A-game again tomorrow.”