FIU beats WKU 9-8 in extras to issue Toppers first Sun Belt loss

Brad Stephens

WKU Head Coach Chris Finwood said Saturday night that Florida International would be “fighting for their lives” against the Toppers Sunday afternoon.

His statement proved true, as the Golden Panthers clawed back from an eighth-inning, 6-3 deficit and an 8-6, 10th-inning hole before finally defeating the Toppers 9-8 in 10 innings.

It was the first Sun Belt Conference loss of the season for WKU (16-7, 5-1 Sun Belt) and broke the Toppers’ eight-game winning streak.

It also was the first win of the weekend for preseason league favorite FIU (15-11, 2-4 Sun Belt), as the Golden Panthers avoided a 1-5 start to the Sun Belt season.

WKU took a 7-6 lead in the top of the 10th inning thanks to a RBI single with the bases loaded from sophomore first baseman Ryan Huck.

Huck was hitting off FIU shortstop Garrett Wittels, who was moved over to pitch the 10th by Golden Panther Head Coach Turtle Thomas.

The Topper lead moved to two runs when junior third baseman Casey Dykes reached on an error by David Vazquez, Wittels’ replacement at shortstop.

But the WKU bullpen couldn’t hold the lead long.

Junior reliever Phil Wetherell was replaced by junior closer Rye Davis after walking Vazquez to begin the FIU 10th inning.

Davis induced a pop-up from second baseman T.J. Shantz for the first out, but catcher Jose Behar then reached on an error from Dykes.

Davis struck out outfielder Jabari Henry on three pitches for the second out of the inning.

But outfielder Yoandy Barosso came up next and hit a two-strike RBI single that cut the Topper lead to one, then advanced into scoring position on the throw home.

With runners on second and third and two outs, Davis had the next batter, outfielder Pablo Bermudez, in a 2-2 count.

But Bermudez was able to get a pitch he could handle and hit a two-RBI single that gave FIU a 9-8 victory.

Davis picked up his second loss after the blown save, but he wasn’t the only Topper reliever to blow a lead Sunday.

Junior reliever Ross Hammonds entered in the eighth inning with WKU up 6-3.

But he gave up singles to designated hitter Mike Martinez and Shantz before surrendering a three-run home run by Behar that tied the game at six.

Behar’s home run was just the second hit off Hammonds this season.

The loss meant the Toppers wasted a big power day at the plate.

Junior right fielder Ryan Hutchison hit the first Topper blast of the day, a two-run shot that extended a one-run WKU lead to 3-0.

Later in the same inning, senior designated hitter Chris Bullard added a two-run home run of his own — and the first of his career — a shot over the center-field wall that made the Topper advantage 5-0.

But FIU fought back with two runs in the fifth and one run in the sixth, all off WKU senior pitcher Brian Edelen, cutting the score to 5-3.

Edelen pitched five-plus innings, giving up three earned runs, five hits, three walks, and struck out five before being replaced by sophomore right-hander Taylor Haydel.

Junior second baseman Ivan Hartle, who knocked in WKU’s first run of the day with a third inning triple, hit a solo home run in the eighth that gave the Toppers a 6-3 lead.

However the three-run lead disappeared when Hammonds gave up the game-tying shot to Behar.

WKU will take to the road Tuesday for a midweek game with in-state rival Louisville.

The Toppers’ next Sun Belt opponent will be Arkansas Little-Rock.

WKU will meet the Trojans for a three-game road series next weekend.