Toppers win series finale, avoid sweep

Michael Casagrande

Last Sunday, Western entered their series finale with Wright State looking to complete a three-game sweep. But this Sunday, the Toppers found themselves fighting not to be swept away by an up-start Northern Iowa team.

The Toppers (7-4) responded by beating the Panthers 10-4 to save face after losing two heart-breaking games of the series.

“For our players’ sake, it was important to play well,” head coach Joel Murrie said. “I have no doubt in their ability and desire to win, but I feel it was important for their confidence to come out with a win.”

Northern Iowa (3-7) limped into Bowling Green after dropping six of their first seven games, but the Panthers jumped all over the surging Toppers in the opening game of the series.

Andy Baldwin (1-1) struggled in his first appearance since his one-hit shut out of Wright State last Saturday. The junior right hander gave up six runs, four of them earned in six innings of work.

Baldwin and the Toppers fell behind early, finding themselves in a 9-2 hole heading into the bottom of the eighth.

But Western had some fight left.

Freshman sensation Tim Grogan launched his third home run of the year over the center field wall with sophomore Antone Towns on base to cut the deficit to 9-4. The Toppers added two more runs in the eighth to set up a furious ninth inning.

Western loaded the bases in the bottom of the final frame, but with a chance to steal a win, the Toppers came up a little short. Sophomore Rafael Vallejo struck out, and senior David Lower struck out to end the game.

The Toppers looked to rebound on a spring-like Saturday afternoon. However, another late Topper rally fell short in front of the largest home crowd of the young season.

Down 4-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Grogan came through again with an RBI double to left, scoring Lower. Senior Matt Wilhite followed with a ground-rule double to right field that brought Grogan home.

Western tied the game when junior Matt Johnston scored on a Lower triple to center field in the bottom of the seventh.

Joe Burgett broke a few Hilltopper hearts when his two-out single off Matt Wilhite (1-1) scored Andrew Farmer the eventual winning run.

The Toppers jumped all over the Panthers in the final game of the series behind the solid pitching of ace J.C. Faircloth (4-0). The sophomore southpaw scattered six hits in six innings to extend his streak of scoreless innings to 12 and two-thirds.

“It felt really good,” Faircloth said. “You never want to get swept, especially at home. It was important to come out and play well when your back was up against the wall.”

Junior Matt Gunning led the way from the plate for the Toppers, going three for five with three RBIs. Gunning’s .386 hitting percentage leads the team after 11 games.

Lower added two hits and three RBIs as Western blew out the Panthers.

Adam Boeve provided the only Northern Iowa highlight of the day when he tattooed an offering to center field for a grand slam.

Johnston extended his hitting streak to 10 games after a successful weekend at the plate. Not to be outdone, senior Travis has reached base safely in the past 10 games.

“Getting on base, whether it’s a hit or a walk, you give your team an opportunity to score,” junior infielder Travis Brown said.

The Toppers will return to action Tuesday at Louisville. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Old Cardinal Stadium. The Cardinals are (9-4) and are coming off a 1-0 win over Illinois Sunday.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].