BASEBALL: Toppers prove to best of show

Michael Casagrande

The promise of free hotdogs for the first 300 fans may have lured people to Denes Field last night, but the show Western and the University of Kentucky put on kept them in their chairs.

The Toppers sent the Wildcats back to Lexington on a losing note following a thrilling come-from-behind Western victory on Fan Appreciation Night.

Nearly 700 fans packed the new seating unveiled last night, the largest crowd at a home game all season.

Coach Joel Murrie was enthusiastic following the thrilling victory, happy to come away with the win.

“You tip your cap to the players on both teams,” Murrie said. “It was a great college ballgame. It wasn’t sloppy, there was outstanding defense, pitchers pitched well in tight situations, and we were very fortunate to come up with big hitting.”

The Wildcats looked poised to ruin the festive night as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two innings. Sophomore pitcher Grady Hinchman was frustrated after Kentucky scored both early runs with two-out RBI singles.

“I was leaving the ball up and that’s what they were hitting,” Hinchman said.

But Hinchman settled down. Kentucky could only muster two more hits with Hinchman on the mound, but the Topper bats had trouble warming up. Only one Topper, senior shortstop Travis Brown, had a multi-hit game.

The score remained 2-0 until the bottom of the sixth when Western put together a two-out rally of their own. Sophomore right fielder Antone Towns tied the game on a two RBI double down the right field line scoring junior second baseman Matt Johnston and freshman third baseman Tim Grogan.

However, Towns almost didn’t get the opportunity to hit as Murrie asked the clean-up hitter if he wanted a pinch hitter to replace him. But Towns would not be stopped.

“I was looking for one pitch, inside middle-in fast ball, something I could drive into the outfield,” Towns said.

Senior center fielder David Lower came through with a two-out RBI double of his own in the seventh inning that gave the Toppers the lead for good.

Lower, an Indiana native, may not know the Western-Kentucky rivalry well, but he enjoyed playing in the tense atmosphere.

“(Kentucky) being in a powerhouse conference like the SEC, makes it a more important game, especially for the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index). Whoever they beat in the SEC helps us in the RPI,” Lower said.

The Wildcats were not going to roll over after the Toppers took the lead. Kentucky’s Spencer Graeter led off the eight inning with a double, putting the tying run in scoring position. The 2000 Kentucky Mr. Baseball found himself on third base with one out following a balk from senior pitcher Matt Wilhite.

Wilhite regained his composure as Wildcats Brad Pickrell and Jake Kungl both grounded out to leave Graeter stranded on third.

Western will return to action against Lipscomb at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Denes Field.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].