WKU takes first home defeat of the year with 9-5 loss to Illinois

Brad Stephens

WKU freshman pitcher Justin Hageman had Illinois’ number for the first five innings of Saturday’s game.

But one hanging breaking ball from Hageman changed the game.

With two runners on in the sixth, Hageman left a 1-2 offering to Illini catcher Adam Davis up in the strike zone.

Davis hit the ball off the left field foul pole for a three-run home run that gave Illinois a 4-2 lead.

The Illini (4-7) went on to defeat the Toppers 9-5 at Nick Denes Field, giving WKU (8-6) its first home loss of the season.

“Justin Hageman was a pitch away from a great start and hangs a breaking ball,” WKU coach Chris Finwood said following the game. “Unfortunately freshmen do that sometimes. That was their best hitter, and if he gets that ball down in the dirt or down and away maybe that’s a strikeout. That’s the guy we were trying not to let beat us, and we made a bad pitch and he did.”

Home plate umpire Don Hudson first ruled the ball foul.

But after a conference among the umpires, the ball was ruled a home run.

Junior Jared Andreoli, who played center field in place of junior Kes Carter Saturday, said the umpires got the call right.

“I would’ve taken the no-home run,” Andreoli said smiling following the game. “But it was a home run. They made the right call.”

Illinois added four runs in the seventh, three of which came courtesy of a home run from shortstop Josh Parr.

The Topper lineup produced just two runs in the game’s first eight innings.

Illini starter John Anderson, a redshirt senior walk-on, gave up five hits and two runs in his six innings of work.

It was the second day in a row that Illinois got a good performance from its starter.

Kevin Johnson gave up three runs over seven innings of work Friday for the Illini but had his performance overshadowed by WKU’s Tanner Perkins, who retired 21 consecutive batters at one point en route to a complete-game win.

Andreoli complimented Anderson but said a lot of the fault lies on the hitters.

“Guys’ swings are just lagging a little bit,” Andreoli said. “We’ve just got to come out more aggressive. When you get up in the count, you’ve got to swing and try and hit the ball on a line, and we just haven’t been doing that.”

Andreoli drove in three of WKU’s five runs, thanks to a second-inning bloop single and a ninth-inning two-RBI single.

Senior catcher Matt Rice and senior designated hitter Matt Bracken also had RBI singles for the Toppers.

WKU and Illinois will play the rubber game of their three-game series Sunday at 1 p.m.

Sophomore right-hander Taylor Haydel will start for the Toppers. He owns a 1-1 record and an 8.66 ERA this season.

He’ll oppose Illini left-hander Corey Kimes, who is 0-1 so far with a 4.72 ERA.

Finwood said tomorrow’s game is the kind of game his team must win to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.

“Our goal is to win every series, especially at home,” Finwood said. “I told the team before the season, ‘Boys, you’ll have lots of Sundays where the series is 1-1, and the team that wins on Sunday will be playing in the regional at the end of the season.'”