BASEBALL: Lipscomb takes two of three from Tops

Michael Casagrande

By Michael Casagrande

Herald reporter

The Toppers were looking to have a break this past weekend when a three-game weekend series with lowly Lipscomb appeared on the schedule.

The Bisons entered the weekend with a 12-25 record, but came away with the series victory over Western (20-15, 5-6 SBC), taking two of three games from the Toppers.

“Lipscomb played good baseball,” head coach Joel Murrie said. “I would say it wasn’t our best weekend of the season, but it’s time to put that behind us and get ready for Murray State.”

Losing three games to Lipscomb was disappointing for Murrie, but he doesn’t think his players took the Bisons lightly.

“I was disappointed that we lost, but I’d be even more disappointed if we had people going into the weekend not caring if we won or lost,” Murrie said.

The opening game of the series was the lone highlight for the Toppers. It was a very good Friday for junior second baseman Matt Johnston from the plate. Johnston hit two home runs to power the Toppers over the Bisons, 7-6.

Johnston leads the team in batting average (.341), runs scored (25) and hits (46).

Sophomore rightfielder Antone Towns and senior leftfielder David Lower also hit homeruns Friday.

Sophomore pitcher J.C. Faircloth didn’t get a decision in the series opener, but he had a solid outing, allowing four earned runs in 5 1/3 innings on the mound. The Topper ace’s ERA rose above 4.00.

The series went south for Western on Saturday when the Bisons ran away with the second game, 11-3. Two early runs were not enough for the Toppers as Lipscomb rattled off nine straight.

Western received another strong batting performance from Johnston in a losing effort as the second baseman went 3 for 3 with a pair of doubles. Freshman catcher Matt Robinson also had three hits, marking his third consecutive three-hit start.

Junior pitcher Andy Baldwin pitched six complete innings, giving up five earned runs on eight hits, but picked up his fifth loss of the season. Freshman Chris Conley and junior Joe Shortt also made appearances on the mound, but the Bison’s bats were too strong.

The teams traveled to Nashville for the series finale on Easter Sunday. The Topper bats apparently stayed in Bowling Green for the holiday as Western managed only three hits.

Lipscomb pitcher David Patton held Western in check by recording a complete-game shutout, striking out seven Toppers. Murrie felt that Patton was as good as any pitcher the Toppers faced all season.

Johnston, sophomore center fielder Rafael Vallejo and sophomore designated hitter Brent Miller each had one hit.

“We were struggling a bunch at the plate, and it was kind of like a snowball effect,” freshman third baseman Tim Grogan said. “When things started going wrong, it went wrong for everybody. It was contagious.”

It was Lipscomb’s three runs on three hits in the sixth inning that ruined what Murrie thought was an excellent pitching performance from senior Kenny Hughes. Chris Parker’s two RBI double and a Nathan McCorkle RBI two-bagger proved to be the difference in the game.

The Toppers failed to score a run in the ninth inning when Johnston and Vallejo picked up two of the teams’ three hits for the game.

“We had a chance to win the game (Sunday), we had a line-up in there that I was very confident in,” Murrie said. “But for whatever reason, their pitcher kept us off stride.”

Senior pitcher Matt Wilhite thinks the team has a hard time putting together a complete game in which the Toppers excel in the field and at the plate.

“If we can get both things going at the same time, we could be really good,” Wilhite said. “We’ve got the talent, but it’s just one of those things you go through.”

The Toppers’ next game is tonight when they travel west to play in-state foe Murray State at 3 p.m.

Murrie has had his way with the Thoroughbreds over his 24 seasons at Western, going 11-2 against Murray State.

“Anytime teams within the state play, I think there is a rivalry there,” Murrie said. “Murray/Western may not be as prevalent as it used to be when it was an OVC game, but regardless, I like to think we pride ourselves as winning every game we can against in-state opponents.”

The ‘Breds, (16-17, 5-3 OVC) are coming off a 7-2 win against Austin Peay. The Toppers beat the Governors 9-2 on April 8 in Clarksville, Tenn.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].