WKU begins Sun Belt play with sweep of MTSU

Ivan Hartle slides into first base during a pick-off play during Sunday’s game against Middle Tennessee. The Toppers beat MTSU 5-4, sweeping the weekend series.

Brad Stephens

WKU players spent the preseason talking about trying to win the Sun Belt Conference championship.

After sweeping Middle Tennessee this weekend at Nick Denes Field, the Toppers are on their way to reaching that goal.

WKU now sits atop the Sun Belt standings.

Head Coach Chris Finwood said the Toppers should “feel pretty good about themselves” after their first weekend series.

“Anytime you sweep a series it’s good, and when you sweep your rivals to open the conference, that’s even better,” Finwood said following Sunday’s 5-4 WKU win.

The Toppers were carried over the weekend by rock-solid starting pitching.

Sophomore left-hander Tanner Perkins threw eight innings and gave up just two runs in a 5-2 win Friday night.

Saturday, freshman right-hander Justin Hageman took a shutout into the seventh inning and earned the victory in a 10-4 win.

And Sunday, senior Brian Edelen notched a win after he pitched six innings, giving up a single unearned run.

“Anytime you get all three weekend starters through the sixth innings, those are quality starts,” Finwood said. “The guys all did a good job keeping it down, and we played defense behind them.”

Edelen’s start has to be particularly pleasing for WKU fans, as Sunday’s game marked his first weekend start of the year.

He filled a rotation slot that had previously been filled by sophomore Taylor Haydel.

 Edelen gave up six hits, no earned runs, no walks, and struck out three.

Junior second baseman Ivan Hartle, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs Sunday, said “Edo” was the reason the Toppers won Sunday.

“Starting pitching, defense and timely hitting is the recipe for winning,” Hartle said. “We were slow with the bats today, but Edelen picked us up and kept us in it.”

Finwood said Edelen’s Sunday performance solidified his role in the weekend rotation, and that he’ll “get the ball for sure” next weekend.

Edelen said the outings of Perkins and Hageman gave him momentum going into his sweep-clinching start.

“The performances this weekend are what we’ve been working towards all year,” Edelen said. “No matter who it is, we want to come out here, take the ball and get outs.”

While the WKU pitching staff quieted the Blue Raider bats, MTSU pitching couldn’t do the same to the Topper lineup.

WKU banged out 31 total hits and drew 16 walks against the Blue Raiders during the three games.

Junior center fielder Kes Carter, in his first game since missing four straight with a calf strain, sparked the Toppers Friday night with two RBI singles.

Saturday, it was junior left fielder Jared Andreoli and senior catcher Matt Rice carrying the offense by combining for three home runs.

And Sunday’s heros were sophomore first baseman Ryan Huck, who hit a go-ahead RBI double, and Hartle.

“The thing I like about us is that it seems every day there’s a different guy stepping up,” Finwood said. “When that happens, you have a chance to win every game.”

The Toppers next take the field tonight at home against Austin Peay. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.