BASEBALL: Toppers avoid sweep at South Alabama

Michael Casagrande

The bus carrying Western’s baseball Toppers rolled into Diddle Arena at 2:15 a.m. Monday after a trying weekend at South Alabama (25-10, 6-3 SBC).

The sleepy Toppers (18-13, 5-6 SBC) returned home after dropping two of three games to the second place team in the Sun Belt Conference.

Western held on to a late lead in Sunday’s series finale to win 10-6, avoiding their first sweep since Louisiana Tech did it in 2000.

Coach Joel Murrie is never happy losing games, but he is able to find the silver lining after a long weekend.

“In retrospect, I think South Alabama may have been the best team we’ve played this year,” Murrie said. “They also became the fourth nationally-ranked team we have beat this year, all of which have been on the road so, when it was all said and done, I was very pleased with the way we played.”

Staff ace and sophomore left-handed pitcher J.C. Faircloth found himself in an early hole in Friday’s opener. After giving up a lead-off single to open the game, Jaguar right fielder Craig Cole, sent a Faircloth offering over the right field wall.

“Once again, I left some balls up in the zone, made some bad pitches and it just took me a while to get settled in,” Faircloth said. “After that first inning, I started to feel more confident as the game went along.”

Faircloth did settle down, allowing only one more earned run in his seven innings of work, but the damage was done, and South Alabama took the first game 6-1.

The loss was Faircloth’s second in a row, but Murrie is not worried that his ace is having a mid-season crisis.

“J.C. has been matched up against everyone’s best pitchers throughout the season,” Murrie said. “He’s been successful five times and on two occasions, he has gotten beat. It’s not one person that loses a ball game. J.C. did his job, if we could have scored more runs, we would have won that ball game.”

On Saturday, the Toppers jumped to an early 4-0 lead after two innings, but the Jaguars fought back with a four-run fourth and a five-run fifth to over-take Western 11-7.

Coming into Sunday’s final game, the Toppers knew they had to salvage something from their trek to Mobile, and they did.

Western was paced by two freshmen and a sophomore at the plate in the final game. Catcher Matt Robinson and infielder Tim Grogan, both freshmen, and sophomore outfielder Antone Towns had three hits apiece as the Toppers held off South Alabama to end an eight-game Jaguar win streak, 10-6.

“We showed a lot of courage Sunday, coming out and playing as well as we did and not letting them sweep us,” Faircloth said.

Western’s pair of catchers had matching solid performances at South Alabama.? Senior Kevin Bearden raised his batting average 67 points to .253 after going seven for nine at the plate. Not to be outdone, Robinson raked up six hits in nine plate appearances, raising his average.

Western will return to Denes Field tomorrow at 6 p.m. to take on the Wildcats from inter-state rival Kentucky (14-20, 2-12 SEC). Fans have extra incentive to head out to the ballpark; the first 300 fans will receive a free hotdog and Pepsi, courtesy of the Western Athletic Department.

Tomorrow’s game will be the first opportunity for fans to check out new seating at Denes Field.

Murrie hopes to see a big crowd at Denes Field, but he isn’t concerned with things he has no control over.

“If its new seats that will bring people out to the ballpark, or the fact that the other team is wearing blue, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s just nice to have people in the stands.”

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].