BASEBALL: Toppers gang up on ‘Breds

Michael Casagrande

Western used a group effort last night to overcome a 3-0 first inning deficit to turn away in-state rival Murray State (17-21) at Denes Field.

Coach Joel Murrie used 24 of 29 Toppers on the roster en route to a 13-7 victory under the lights.

Murrie credited his team’s strong defense for the impressive victory.

“I am pleased that we won,” Murrie said. “We did a very good job offensively, and I’m never surprised when there is a goose egg at the end of the board.”

The Toppers (24-16, 7-7 SBC) came one hit away from matching their season best 17, recorded against Michigan State on March 15, and at South Alabama April 13.

Senior short stop Travis Brown paced the Toppers at the plate, going three for three with three doubles. Fellow middle-infielder Matt Johnston was equally impressive, tallying two hits in four at-bats, with a season best four RBI’s.

“We hit the ball well,” Johnston said. “It was a good win to pick up during the week.”

The early Thoroughbred barrage began after junior pitcher Igor Roiberg walked lead-off batter Charlie Ward on four pitches. Following a Garner Byers double and Brett McCutchan walk, Geoff Kirksey hit a two RBI single to left center field. Alex Steward’s sacrifice fly to right field scored McCutchan and gave Murray their 3-0 lead.

Western’s response came in the bottom of the second inning in the form of a two-out rally. Brown singled to kick-off the effort, and Johnston capped it off with a two RBI double that gave the Toppers a 4-3 lead.

The blow-out came in the third inning as Western poured on five runs to extend the lead to 9-3.

Freshman third baseman Tim Grogan gave himself a much-needed confidence boost in the third when he picked up an infield single with one out. Grogan, who had begun the season on a tear at the plate, was going through his first collegian hitting slump.

The single ended a one-for-20 drought that was starting to play with Grogan’s head.

“I guess it’s just one of those growing pains you go through in your freshman year,” Grogan said. “I’ve got to realize I’m not going to get a hit on every at-bat and not let it get to me. It’s a matter of being aggressive, and I just haven’t been that aggressive.”

Roiberg settled down after a shaky first inning on the mound for the Toppers. The Toronto product did not allow a run after the first inning, picking up his first win of the season in three complete innings of work.

In all, six Topper pitchers saw action last night as their lead ballooned to 12-4.

But in the seventh inning, Murray put together a run of their own to make things a little more interesting.

Freshman pitcher Travis Sewell found himself in a jam when five of the six batters he faced in the inning reached base safely and two runs crossed the plate.

After Geoff Kirksey walked, junior pitcher Adam Prida replaced Sewell on the hill, but it was another freshman that bailed Western out of the jam.

Freshman second baseman Matt Ransdell made a diving catch with two outs and runners on second and third to allow the Toppers to escape the inning without further damage.

The catch was big for Western, according to Murrie, as Western had already pulled most starters from the line up.

“I thought it was pivotal because I hate giving up one run, let alone nine,” Murrie said. “That would have been the eighth and ninth. He did a great job, and that just shows you how versatile and talented we are.”

The victory was sealed in the bottom of the eighth when freshman third baseman Dennis Winn blasted a home run over the 370 sign in left field and onto Big Red Way.

The home run was especially sweet for Winn. It came off former summer league teammate Chandler Shepherd.

“It was kinda fun to hit it against somebody I played with,” Winn said. “It was a 2-0 count, and I was looking for something down the middle, and I was going to take a good hack at it. I just put a good swing on it.”

Senior relief pitcher Matt Wilhite closed out the marathon three-hour game by retiring the side in the ninth. Wilhite’s 1.51 ERA going into the game ranked as the seventh best in the nation.

The side-arm pitching right hander does not let the hype of his national ranking get to his head. He puts team goals above personal accolades.

“The way I look at it, as long as I keep the mind set of helping my team out, (I’ll) shut people out every time.”

Western will jump back into Sun Belt Conference action tomorrow when they face New Mexico State in the first game of a three-game series.

The Aggies sit on top of the Sun Belt standings with a 12-6 conference record.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]