Conditioning at the forefront of WKU baseball’s fall practices

Nick Bratcher

Now that newcomers to the WKU baseball team are in college, you’d think it was time for them to put childish ways behind them and stop playing in the dirt.

As it turns out, the opposite has been true for WKU, which officially kicked off fall practice on Tuesday.

Head coach Chris Finwood knows that a little dirt never hurt anyone, and more importantly, that it will help the Toppers compete when the season rolls around this spring. Finwood’s favorite disciplinary tool — aptly named “dive-backs” — has become a regular sanction for when the team chooses not to practice at game speed.

“Usually older guys will stand outside the bases, and when you run around them, you have to say, ‘Back, back, back!’ and the younger guys will have to dive back and just keep running around the bases,” junior outfielder Jared Andreoli said.

Finwood said the dive-backs create a better all-around team.

“The No. 1 goal (of fall practices) is to try to create some cohesiveness,” Finwood said.

That’s what Finwood and company are working on throughout fall camp, which features 11 inter-squad scrimmages in October and culminates with a five-game “world series” which runs from Nov. 1-5.

The Toppers are looking mainly to avoid a repeat of last year’s late-season skid in which they lost nine of their last twelve games down the stretch.

Junior outfielder Kes Carter said he believed “being in shape…in cardio and the weight room” will play a factor in evading a repeat slide as well.

“You’ve got to play at game speed at all times to get prepared for game day,” Carter said. “The season can wear on you.”

Finwood agreed the fall toward the end of last season stemmed from the taxing nature of spring baseball coupled with a lack of depth.

“We played real well against a lot of really good clubs early when everybody was healthy, and then we started getting some guys nicked up,” Finwood said. “Always the battle you fight at the mid-major level is the depth battle. Guys are starters for a reason, and the goal is to have enough guys so that the injuries don’t overwhelm you, and we just didn’t have that last year. The guys we ended up having to play towards the end of the year, there was a significant drop off talent wise.

“We’ll be a much deeper team this year. That’s apparent.”

WKU has plenty of players right now. The fall roster lists 43 players, with 17 of those being true freshman. Finwood said that as fall practice moves forward, he’ll then decide who will redshirt in the spring.

Leading this season’s squad will be senior catcher Matt Rice and junior pitcher Rye Davis. Both were drafted in the summer but chose to return for the Tops this season.

Finwood is expecting much from the two captains.

“They’re great role models for these young kids,” Finwood said. “I tell them when they say something to you that you’d be smart to listen to them.”

Davis will be assuming the role of starting pitcher this year after becoming a First Team All-Sun Belt Conference relief pitcher last season.

Rice and Davis are not the only men contributing their skills at WKU in lieu of the majors. Justin Hageman, a freshman right-handed pitcher out of Hopkinsville, Ky., and a 32nd-round draft pick, will be expected to make an impact as well.

“On the mound, he’s a difference maker,” Finwood said.

He will aid in filling the space left by the loss of two starting pitchers to the draft.

This fall will identify to what extent he and many others will contribute to the Toppers success this season, Finwood said.

Knowing this, the coach remained tentative with early predictions.

“They’re working hard,” he said. “They’re a good, blue-collar bunch.”

One could say they don’t mind getting their hands dirty.