Topper transfers tearing through opposition

Juniors Ryan Hutchison, left, and Ivan Hartle are Topper baseball newcomers but have been playing baseball together for three years now. The two players transferred to WKU from Iowa Western Community College this year.

Brad Stephens

When Chris Finwood traveled to Iowa Western Community College last May, he was there looking at a third baseman.

It was instead a “big, old, goofy outfielder” named Ryan Hutchison that caught the eye of WKU’s head coach.

“He was hitting balls out of sight,” Finwood said.

After Hutchison helped lead Iowa Western to the 2010 NJCAA World Series Championship, Finwood convinced him to sign with WKU.

The junior right fielder made his Topper debut last weekend against Bowling Green State, hitting .417 with two doubles and five RBIs during a three-game sweep of the Falcons.

He did so hitting from the four spot in the lineup, typically reserved for a team’s best hitter.

“Sometimes if you’re working hard in recruiting, you get a little bit lucky too,” Finwood said. “We went out looking for someone else and came back with our cleanup hitter.”

But Hutchison isn’t the only Topper transfer making an impact so far.

His teammate at Iowa Western, second baseman Ivan Hartle, also came to WKU.

Hartle was named MVP of the 2010 NJCAA World Series and the 2010 NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year while at Iowa Western.

Hitting near the top of the order, Hartle has four RBIs through four games and has also helped the team manufacture runs with three successful sacrifice bunts.

“I’m not the biggest guy, and I don’t have the most power, so I’ve got to have productive outs,” Hartle said. “Whether it’s moving runners or laying sacs down, I just try to do the little things to help our team win.”

Both said they were awestruck by the Opening Weekend atmosphere at Nick Denes Field during their first Division I series.

Hutchison said there were “about 20 fans” at Iowa Western’s 2010 Opening Day, compared to the combined 2,123 fans that showed up at WKU’s first three games.

Hartle said the difference in atmosphere between Iowa Western and WKU was a big one.

“Home games were just work in junior college,” Hartle said. “Now it’s a whole new experience with the fans and the music and everything, so it’s a lot more fun to play the game.”

Hartle added that the difference in competition between junior college and Division I was the factor of consistency.

“In junior college, you might see a couple of good pitchers, and then it would fall off after that,” Hartle said. “Here there’ll be top-of-the-line pitchers throughout the other team’s rotation.”

While they’ve both had to adjust to the Division I game, Hutchison said having each other around has helped the process.

“We lived across the hall from each other, we were close, and our parents were close,” Hutchison said. “Having each other around now has really helped a lot.”

They also know each other’s abilities. Therefore, Hartle was one of the few people not surprised at the hot start of Hutchison.

“He never gets cheap outs,” Hartle said. “A lot of times you’ll see him get down two strikes, foul some pitches back and then put one off the wall. He always battles.”

Hartle and Hutchison have helped lead the Toppers to a 4-0 start after the sweep of BGSU and a 6-3 win at Lipscomb on Wednesday.

Now the Toppers will continue a 10-game road trip at the Baseball at the Beach tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

WKU plays Kansas State at 1 p.m. Friday.

Finwood said he expects the success that Hartle and Hutchison achieved at Iowa Western to continue carrying over to the Toppers.

“Winning is winning at any level, and those kids are used to winning a lot,” Finwood said. “You can tell they’re used to winning by how they go about their business every day. They’re both blue-collar kids.”