Following a 3-0 loss to Lipscomb Sunday, the Toppers found themselves in a hole heading into the most important stretch on their schedule.
Senior pitcher Matt Wilhite was frustrated because the team was having trouble combining a complete game with both strong hitting and fielding.
A shutout win against an in-state opponent would help ease the pain, and a 5-0 win at Murray State Tuesday did exactly that.
“We made some improvements yesterday,” Wilhite said. “Of course we threw real good, but we had some better swings at the plate and I think it will help us get over this weekend.”
Sophomore pitcher Grady Hinchman picked up his fifth win of the year to remain the only undefeated pitcher on staff. The southpaw gave up only three hits in his six complete innings of work. Hinchman’s seven strikeouts were a career best.
A flawless record is not enough to make Hinchman claim the credit for the victory. He passes much of his success back to the defense that backs him up.
“It’s good to get wins, but it takes more than a pitcher to get those,” Hinchman said. We didn’t hit the ball outstanding yesterday, but I figured if I could keep them from scoring as many runs as possible, we could get enough to win.”
Wilhite relieved Hinchman in the seventh inning to finish off Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference. The veteran leader sat down all nine batters he faced, as he picked up his eighth save of the season, only one behind the single-season record of nine set by Eddie Jent in 1985. Wilhite already holds the career save record as Tuesday’s win extends the mark to 20.
Wilhite is not only making his mark on the Hill, but the right-hander is making waves nationally. Wilhite’s 1.63 ERA places him in the top 14 in the NCAA, and four saves behind Mike Dalton of Virginia Tech and Steven Register of Auburn as the national save leader.
Sophomore centerfielder Rafael Vallejo was the only Topper with a multi-hit game against the Thoroughbreds. The Bronx native led off the game with a single to right field, and scored the first run.
After a two-week break, Western will dive back into Sun Belt Conference action Friday when Middle Tennessee State comes to Denes Field.
The Blue Raiders are one spot below Western in the Sun Belt standings, posting a 6-9 record in the league this season. Coach Joel Murrie was not available for comment, but the veteran skipper has posted a 29-26 career record against Middle Tennessee.
“It’s a big weekend for us,” volunteer assistant coach Luis Rodriguez said. “We need to play our game, play defense, pitch and hopefully our bats will get going again. We should do all right this weekend.”
The three game series will get under way at 6 p.m. Friday and end with a pair of afternoon games on Saturday and Sunday, at 2 p.m. and 1 p.m. respectively.
Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]