Deep Topper lineup provides plenty of offense in weekend sweep

Junior Logan Robbins hits a line drive toward third base, almost hitting junior Kes Carter during Sunday’s game against Bowling Green State. The Toppers won 12-3, sweeping BGSU in three games during their opening weekend.

Brad Stephens

Usually pitchers get an early-season advantage, while hitters take a few weeks to get calibrated.

But that wasn’t the case for WKU’s offense on its opening weekend, as the Toppers scored 32 total runs in a three-game sweep of Bowling Green State at Nick Denes Field.

Nine different Toppers had at least one RBI during the weekend, while 12 players recorded hits.

Head Coach Chris Finwood said some of the success could be attributed to subpar Falcon pitching, but he was still pleased by the performance of his offense and its ability to adapt to the new NCAA bat rules.

The new rules, which called for changes in bat design, were created to increase player safety and keep scoring down.

That means Finwood will be relying on his team to play more “small ball” this season, with an emphasis on moving runners over and stealing bases.

“We put some pressure on people, got our bunts down and did the fundamental things you have to do to win,” Finwood said following Sunday’s 12-3 WKU victory. “The bats are definitely different, so that’s something you’ll just have to learn how to play with.”

WKU didn’t hit a home run during the series.

But junior second baseman Ivan Hartle and sophomore first baseman Ryan Huck helped illustrate the Toppers’ new approach at the plate.

Hartle, in his first series at WKU, dropped three sacrifice bunts, while Huck hit three sacrifice flies.

“Our team has done a great job of getting runners on base and moving runners into scoring position,” Huck said.

Sparking the WKU batting order was leadoff hitter Jared Andreoli.

The junior left fielder hit .500 for the series, had four RBIs, scored four runs and stole two bases.

 Adding power to the middle of the Topper lineup was junior right fielder Ryan Hutchison, a newcomer who hit fourth in the order in all three games.

A junior college teammate of Hartle, Hutchison hit .417 for the series with five RBIs.

“Hutch is that guy in the middle that maybe we didn’t have last year,” Finwood said. “And that can change the lineup around.”

Team depth has been a big talking point for Finwood leading up to this season.

Nowhere was the team’s new depth more evident than at the designated hitter.

Finwood started senior Chris Bullard at DH on Friday, senior Matt Bracken on Saturday and sophomore Matt Borgschulte on Sunday.

Hitting out of the last spot in the order, each got at least one hit.

Borgschulte especially thrived, going 4-for-4 in the series’ final game.

Finwood said he expects the three players to rotate through the spot based on day-to-day matchups, but he anticipates keeping the spot last in the order.

“It’s a bit unusual to have your DH hitting ninth,” Finwood said. “But because our lineup is so strong up to that point, that may just be where it falls for us.”

A deep, effective lineup will be especially key for WKU this season because of the team’s inexperienced starting pitchers.

Finwood’s weekend rotation against BGSU consisted of sophomores Tanner Perkins and Taylor Haydel and freshman Justin Hageman.

Hageman, who earned his first career win Sunday, said it helped to have a lineup that was so explosive.

“There’s not one easy out on our team,” Hageman said. “I’d rather have any one of them at the plate than any of our opponents.”