Tops enjoy series victory at the Nick after long road trip

Sophomore pitcher Tanner Perkins pitches against Illinois during Friday’s home game. Perkins pitched a complete game in WKU’s 3-1 win, and the Toppers went on to take two of the series’ three games.

Brad Stephens

After nine games away from Nick Denes Field, WKU was ready to come home.

And a weekend series win over Illinois made it a happy homecoming for the Toppers.

WKU defeated the Fighting Illini, 13-5, on Sunday in the rubber game of a three-game set to improve its 2011 record to 9-6, and its home record to 5-1.

“It felt so good to be back at the Nick,” junior shortstop Logan Robbins said following Sunday’s game. “Nine days on the road was good for us. We came together a lot as a team, but being back home was really good.”

WKU defeated Illinois Friday in the first game of the series, 3-1, thanks to a dominating performance from sophomore pitcher Tanner Perkins.

Perkins retired 21 straight batters at one point and surrendered just one run in a complete-game effort.

Illinois came back Saturday to deliver the Toppers a 9-5 defeat, their first home loss of the season.

But after struggling offensively on Friday and Saturday, the Topper lineup produced 15 hits Sunday and carried WKU to a 13-5 win.

WKU also got solid relief outings in Sunday’s game from senior pitcher Brian Edelen and junior pitcher Rye Davis.

Edelen gave up one run over three innings to earn the win, while Davis pitched 2 and 2/3 shutout innings to notch the save. 

“That’s a situation where Tanner giving us a complete game on Friday helped us save our bullpen for today,” Head Coach Chris Finwood said Sunday. “We had Rye fresh, and our bullpen was able to outlast theirs.”

The Illinois series came on the heels of a nine-game road trip for the Toppers that spanned almost three weeks.

The road trip started with a 6-3 win over Lipscomb in Nashville.

WKU then went to the Baseball at the Beach Tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where they beat Kansas State in the opener, then lost to Coastal Carolina and Pacific.

The Toppers went back to Nashville the next Tuesday to play No. 2 Vanderbilt, but lost 6-5.

WKU played at the College of Charleston Tournament the weekend of March 4-6.

The Toppers had a win against New York Tech sandwiched by losses to the College of Charleston and Auburn.

But WKU finished the road trip on a winning note with a 7-3 win in Oxford, Miss., against Ole Miss.

Robbins said playing tough competition early will prepare the Toppers for Sun Belt Conference play.

“When it gets down to the tournament, it looks good on our schedule,” Robbins said. “Those guys are good, and for us to be able to beat those guys gets us ready for conference play.”

Robbins was one of the stars of Sunday’s game, finishing 3-for-5 with three RBIs.

But a more unlikely Sunday hero was freshman pitcher Justin Hageman.

After Hageman pitched and took the loss Saturday, Finwood placed him in the lineup Sunday as his designated hitter. 

Hageman went 2-for-3 with a key RBI double in a five-run fourth inning.

Hageman said the growth done by WKU on the road trip helped the Toppers when they returned home.

“Being on the road was real new for everybody, especially our freshmen,” Hageman said. “And we took care of business on the road.

“But the best part of being on the road is being able to come back and play here.”