Toppers grab two midweek wins before ASU series

WKU senior catcher Matt Rice celebrates with teammates after the Toppers’ game against Murray State at Nick Denes Field on Wednesday evening. WKU won 3-2.

Brad Stephens

WKU went into this week gunning for wins against two local rivals, Austin Peay and Murray State.

The Toppers did just that, getting a 17-6 Tuesday road win over the Governors and a 3-2 victory over the Thoroughbreds Wednesday night at Nick Denes Field.

Junior center fielder Kes Carter and senior catcher Matt Rice provided the offense in an APSU game that saw WKU match its team high for runs.

Carter hit a third-inning grand slam that turned a 4-1 deficit into a 5-4 lead and finished the day 4-for-6 with five RBIs.

Meanwhile, Rice filled up the box score by going 4-for-5 with three RBIs, a walk and four runs, tying a season high for runs scored in a single game by a Topper.

While hitting carried WKU Tuesday, pitching and defense saved the Toppers against Murray.

Junior right-hander Rye Davis, typically a reliever, got the start for WKU Wednesday and was solid, going five innings and giving up four hits and three walks, but just one run.

Davis came into the game with an unsightly 8.10 ERA, but Head Coach Chris Finwood said after the game he was confident Davis’ performance against Murray would get his season going.

“We wanted him to get out there and work, and I thought he was better,” Finwood said. “To pitch five innings and give up one run, you’ll take that on a Wednesday any day of the week.”

Davis said that he went into Wednesday’s game with the mindset that his “season was going to start tonight.”

“Earlier in the year I was trying too hard,” Davis said. “I was putting too much pressure on myself, rearing back and trying the ball too hard, and I was throwing too many balls.

“For us to win a championship, not to sound selfish or anything, but I’m going to need to pitch a lot better than I have been. So I just figured I’d start right now.”

The Toppers also played solid defense behind Davis and the rest of the WKU bullpen, including a sparkling, game-clinching double play.

With the bases loaded in the ninth inning and one out, Topper reliever Phil Wetherell induced a high chopper to second from Murray catcher Jacob Rhodes.

WKU junior second baseman Ivan Hartle charged in, made a nice backhand scoop and flipped to junior shortstop Logan Robbins to start the play.

“(Murray) is a great team over there, and they grind it out,” Hartle said. “But we pitched great today, and when they did get runners on, we had a few double plays to find ways out of it.”

WKU now stands at 22-12 on the year going into a home weekend series with Sun Belt Conference opponent Arkansas State.

Finwood said Wednesday that sophomore left-hander Tanner Perkins, who has a 6-1 record in 2011, will start the series opener tonight at Nick Denes Field at 6 p.m.

The Red Wolves are ninth in the Sun Belt standings with a 4-8 record, compared to the Toppers, who sit in second place at 8-4.

Davis said the home series is a good opportunity for WKU to stay in the league race.

 “This upcoming weekend’s big for us,” Davis said. “We just need to win the series and stay consistent so that we can be at the top of the standings at the end of the year.”