WKU beats FIU 6-4, improves Sun Belt record to 5-0

Brad Stephens

WKU learned the importance of insurance runs in a 6-4 win over Florida International Saturday at University Park in Miami.

Up 3-1 in the ninth, the Toppers added three runs on a Matt Rice sacrifice fly and a Kes Carter two-run triple.

The added support gave WKU (16-6, 5-0 Sun Belt Conference) the cushion it needed to survive a furious three-run Golden Panther (14-11, 1-4 Sun Belt) rally in the bottom of the ninth.

“We had that big inning in the ninth, and we needed every one of them,” Head Coach Chris Finwood told WKU’s Big Red Radio following the game. “We talked about how you can never have enough, and Kes’ hit gave us some breathing room.”

The Golden Panther rally began when junior Topper reliever Rye Davis hit FIU catcher Jose Behar and walked right fielder Pablo Bermudez on back-to-back plate appearances with one out in the ninth inning.

Third baseman Jeremy Patton followed with a double that cut the WKU lead to 6-2.

After a strikeout of shortstop Garrett Wittels, Davis surrendered a double to first baseman Rudy Flores that scored Bermudez and Patton, trimming the Toppers’ lead to 6-4.

Finwood then called for junior reliever Phil Wetherell to replace Davis.

Wetherell induced a line-drive out from the potential tying run, designated hitter Mike Martinez, to end the game.

“It was just another hard-fought game,” Finwood said. “We were able to get enough runs to be able to hold on.”

The victory means the Toppers will stay alone atop the Sun Belt standings for another game.

WKU freshman pitcher Justin Hageman (4-2) picked up the win.

Hageman pitched 6 and 2/3 innings, giving up a lone seventh-inning run, seven hits and four walks, and struck out a career-high eight batters.

He spent much of the night working out of trouble, as he retired the Golden Panthers in order just once.

“I thought he was just outstanding tonight, especially working out of jams early,” Finwood said. “For the first conference road start of his college career, he was very composed and handled himself really well.”

WKU broke out to a 1-0 lead thanks to a first-inning RBI base hit from Logan Robbins off FIU starter R.J. Fondon.

The lead held at one run until sophomore Ryan Huck led off the fifth inning with his second home run of the year, a solo shot that pushed the Topper lead to 2-0.

WKU made its lead 3-0 in the seventh when junior second baseman Ivan Hartle hit an RBI single to right field.

However the Topper lead looked to be in danger in the bottom of the inning, when Hageman gave up a two-out seventh inning RBI double to Wittels.

With runners on second and third, Finwood turned to Davis to face Flores.

The Golden Panther first baseman hit a tailing line drive to left field, but junior left fielder Jared Andreoli made a sliding catch that ended the FIU threat and preserved the WKU lead.

“It was a heck of a good catch,” Finwood said. “Jared finds ways to help us win every day, with his legs, with his bat, with his defense, and that’s why he’s a special player.”

The play made up for an otherwise quiet night from Andreoli.

He saw his 15-game hitting streak come to an end after a 0-for-4 night, although he did walk once and score a run.

But his .404 batting average is second only to Robbins’ .407 clip among WKU players, and he has yet to make an error this season in left field.

“This can be a hard place to see at night,” Andreoli said. “I was just trying to keep the ball in front of me, and I made a nice play on it.”

Fondon (1-3) picked up the loss for FIU after pitching six-plus innings and giving up three runs, six hits and a walk while striking out five.

After a 3-2 victory Friday and the 6-4 win Saturday, WKU will go for its second consecutive weekend sweep Sunday at 10 a.m.

Senior Brian Edelen (3-0, 3.55 ERA) will start for the Toppers.

He sealed WKU’s conference opening sweep of Middle Tennessee one Sunday ago.

Edelen will oppose FIU right-hander Danny DeSimone (2-2, 3.41 ERA).

Finwood said his team will be “frothing at the mouth” when they take the University Park field Sunday morning.

“Hopefully Brian will give us another quality start tomorrow like he did last Sunday,” Finwood said. “But FIU will be fighting for their lives, so they’ll give everything they’ve got tomorrow.”