Dykes leads WKU in 5-2 win over Austin Peay

WKU infielder Ivan Hartle, junior, tags second base before the runner from Austin Peay could get there in Tuesday’s game at Nick Denes Field. WKU won the game 5-2.

Brad Stephens

Casey Dykes led WKU headfirst to a 5-2 win over Austin Peay Tuesday night – literally and figuratively.

The junior third baseman came into Tuesday stuck in a 4-for-22 batting slump, but he broke that slump by going 2-for-3 with a season-high three RBIs.

Dykes’ timely hitting helped lead WKU (14-6, 3-0 Sun Belt Conference) to its sixth consecutive win.

Meanwhile, Austin Peay (9-10) dropped its seventh game out of its last nine.

Dykes also earned a knot on his head while diving after an eighth inning foul ball headfirst into the brick wall that runs along the third base line at Nick Denes Field.

WKU Head Coach Chris Finwood rolled his eyes and smiled when asked about Dykes’ “interesting” diving attempt.

“Interesting is a good word,” Finwood said. “I asked Casey if he forgot we had brick walls on the sides. But he was playing hard, and sometimes college guys lose their minds.”

Dykes laughed off the play after the game, saying “that probably wasn’t too smart.”

“Being a corner infielder, you dream of making a diving catch over by the fence,” Dykes said. “But right there a wall probably wasn’t the smartest thing to dive into in that situation.”

Despite the rough ending to Dykes’ night, he got off to a good start.

Trailing 2-0 in the fourth inning, Dykes hit a two-RBI single that tied the game.

Sophomore catcher Ryan Huck followed with his fifth sacrifice fly of the year, knocking in the go-ahead run for WKU.

Huck, usually used as a first baseman, caught Tuesday to give the Toppers’ everyday catcher, senior Matt Rice, a day off defensively.

Rice was in the lineup as a designated hitter.

Dykes and Huck both had RBI singles in the fifth inning that pushed the WKU lead to 5-2.

A three-run lead was all the Toppers needed, as relievers Ross Hammonds and Phil Wetherell shut out the Governors for the rest of the game.

“We didn’t play great offensively tonight because we certainly left some runs out there,” Finwood said. “But we had those two big innings in the middle of the game to break it open.”

Sophomore starting pitcher Taylor Haydel picked up the victory in his first midweek start of the season.

Haydel pitched three innings as scheduled, giving up two hits and two walks but no runs.

His tensest moments came in the third inning of a scoreless game after he walked APSU center fielder Michael Blanchard to load the bases with one out.

Haydel struck out the next hitter, APSU shortstop Reed Harper, on a rising 3-2 fastball to record the second out of the inning.

Haydel then induced an ground ball from Governor second baseman Jordan Hankins that ended the inning, allowing Haydel to go back to the dugout unscathed and high-fived by teammates.

Hankins was a .477 hitter entering Tuesday but was held 0-for-4 by WKU pitching.

Finwood, who said nine days before that Haydel needed to “learn how to compete,” said Haydel’s third inning performance was “great to see.”

“Getting out of that jam ought to give him some confidence,” Finwood said. “We made him go out there with his pants up high just to change his look a little bit, and I thought his stuff was better tonight.”

Haydel was replaced before the fourth inning by freshman right-hander Brian Doering.

The Manual High School alum Doering, making his second career appearance, allowed two runs on three hits and two walks during his two innings on the mound.

WKU, which has made nine less errors than its opponents this season, didn’t have a defensive miscue Tuesday night, while the Governors made two.

“We played solid all-around between our defense, pitching and hitting,” Dykes said. “There’s not as much hype around a midweek game as there is around weekend conference games, but these are the games you need to win to be there at the end of the year.”

The Toppers will travel to Miami later this week in preparation for a weekend Sun Belt series against Florida International.

After sweeping Middle Tennessee last weekend, WKU finds itself on top of the league with a 3-0 conference record.

Meanwhile, the Golden Panthers currently sit near the bottom of the standings after going 1-2 against FAU over the weekend.

But FIU does feature infielder Garrett Wittels, a National College Baseball Writers Association Preseason All-American who had a 56-game hitting streak snapped in February.

First pitch Friday will be 6 p.m., and sophomore left-hander Tanner Perkins (4-1, 2.43 ERA) will start for WKU.

Dykes said facing the Golden Panthers for three weekend games may be the Toppers’ toughest test to date.

“FIU has a really good team,” Dykes said. “But I think we have a really good team too, and getting a couple of wins down there would give us a lot to build off of.”