BASEBALL: After two wins, Tops drop finale

Amber North

Easter weekend wasn’t a time to rest and spend time with the family for the Hilltoppers.

Instead, the team traveled to Jonesboro, Ark., in order to deliver bitter candy and rotten eggs to Arkansas State.

Western (18-18, 4-5 Sun Belt Conferece) overcame a three-game losing streak to beat the Indians (17-16, 2-7 SBC) in two of the the three games they played.

Junior pitcher Grady Hinchman (2-3) started the series right Friday night, pitching a career-high 7.2 innings and striking out eight batters.

The hitting performance was superb as well, totaling 14 for the game.

“We’ve done a fine job hitting,” coach Joel Murrie said. “We played outstanding on Friday, but our defense is not good to what we need it to be because we’ve made too many errors.”

The Toppers committed eight errors over the weekend.

Sophomore shortstop Matt Ransdell led the offense with three hits. At his first two at-bats, senior right fielder Matt Gunning hit two home runs and had four RBIs to help the Hilltoppers beat ASU 10-4.

“It’s nice to get two in one game, especially at my first two at-bats,” Gunning said. “We all played well Friday night to get a win.”

Gunning’s offensive juice carried over into Saturday’s game with his six RBIs to boost the team to tie a season-high 17 runs, taking ASU 17-10.

Sophomore third baseman Tim Grogan went 4-5 and added five RBIs to the stat sheet, including a two-run homer that gave Western a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.

“Gunning and Grogan have done a great job,” Murrie said. “(We’ve been) coming up with people on base and as a result Timmy and Gunning have been setting plays.”

Junior Daniel Faulkner improved to 6-3 on the season with a strong pitching performance, allowing only two earned runs in five innings.

The Toppers had 18 hits for the game and scored in every inning except for the third and seventh.

Easter Sunday did not run as smoothly as the previous two games for the Toppers. After being spectators to the Hilltopper swing show on their home field, Arkansas State wanted payback.

In the bottom of the first, the Indians scored three runs to make it 3-0. The Toppers then went on a quick run, scoring five straight runs in six innings.

A two-run home run from ASU catcher Chris Prothro and an RBI from third baseman Chris Rich pushed the Indians past Western 6-5.

Gunning hit his fourth homer of the the weekend when he smacked one over the wall in the seventh to even the score.

That was the last time the Hilltoppers scored while ASU picked up four more to seal their second conference victory this season.

“We didn’t run out of steam, they just hit the ball well,” Murrie said. “We missed some opportunities to put the game away. As a compliment to Arkansas State, they fought back to win a game they desperately needed to win.”

Western will go back on the road to Clarksville, Tenn. tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. to play Austin Peay.

Reach Amber North at [email protected]