Tops hoping to deliver payback to Cards tonight

Brad Stephens

If there’s one program that has had WKU’s number over the past few years, it’s the Louisville Cardinals.

Louisville has beaten the Toppers in seven of their last eight meetings, including five straight.

WKU (16-7, 5-1 Sun Belt Conference) will try to change that statistic when it visits the Cardinals at 5 p.m. tonight at Jim Patterson Stadium in Louisville.

The Cardinals won both of the teams’ meetings last year, 7-6 in Bowling Green and 7-4 in Louisville.

Senior catcher Matt Rice is 1-5 in his career against the Cardinals, and he said what makes Louisville tough to beat is pitching depth and a quality coaching staff under Head Coach Dan McDonnell.

“They play the game the right way, and they don’t give up a lot of runs,” Rice said. “It seems like in a close game they can always bring in another good arm from the bullpen, and then score the one or two runs they need to win.”

Louisville made an appearance in the 2007 College World Series, has won back-to-back Big East Conference championships and advanced to an NCAA Super Regional last season against Vanderbilt.

This year’s Cardinals have a 15-8 record and were ranked No. 27 in last week’s National College Baseball Writers Association Poll.

But while Louisville is garnering national attention, WKU is coming into Tuesday’s matchup on a hot streak of its own.

The Toppers have won 10 of their last 12 games and had an eight-game winning streak snapped after a 9-8, extra-inning loss at Florida International on Sunday.

WKU’s 5-1 Sun Belt record puts the Toppers in a three-team tie for first place.

Finwood said Monday that even though the Toppers couldn’t clinch a sweep Sunday against the preseason Sun Belt favorite Golden Panthers, winning the first two games in Miami was still an impressive feat.

“We’ve had so many great games with (FIU) over the past three years that seem to come down to the last inning or last at-bat,” Finwood said. “This weekend, our guys played a good brand of baseball.”

Junior left fielder Jared Andreoli has been the team’s hottest hitter lately, as he owns a .410 batting average, 22 RBIs and a team-high 25 runs scored.

The Toppers have also received large contributions from junior shortstop Logan Robbins, who is hitting .384, and Rice, who leads the team with 24 RBIs.

The Toppers have found depth with their lineup, but they’ve also found trouble taking advantage of opportunities with runners in scoring position.

They left the bases loaded three times in the loss Sunday and stranded 17 runners during the game.

“We’ll get better at that,” Finwood said. “We’re getting lots of hits and leading the league in team batting average by a ton (.328, compared to second-place Troy at .305). We’ve just got to learn to cash those runs in.”

WKU media relations confirmed Monday that junior right-hander Phil Wetherell, who’s primarily a reliever, will start for the Toppers against Louisville.

Another junior relief pitcher, Rye Davis, will start in a Wednesday home matchup with Belmont.

Finwood said neither will pitch more than a few innings.

He said he’ll use a group of freshmen pitchers in relief, and, if needed, sophomore left-hander Tanner Perkins would close Tuesday, while freshman starter Justin Hageman could close against Belmont.

Rice said that no matter who is on the mound, he expects to see a hard-fought game in Louisville.

“It’ll come down to pitching, defense, and timely hitting,” Rice said. “If we do those things, we should be fine.”