BASEBALL: Toppers blank Dayton, 3-0

Michael Casagrande

Western may have won the battle Tuesday, but they lost a soldier.

The Toppers dispatched winless Dayton 3-0 in a defensive battle at Nick Denes Field but a freak accident may have sidelined one of Western’s young guns.

Freshman third baseman Matt Ransdell suffered a possible high-ankle sprain between innings when a throw from center fielder Rafael Vallejo sailed over his head. After leaping for the ball, he landed on Dayton’s third base coach.

“I heard a loud pop,” Ransdell said. “I thought ‘Oh crap, I just hurt my ankle.”

Ransdell, the son of Western President Gary Ransdell, had appeared in four games, tallying one hit in four plate appearances.

Tuesday’s spring-like weather turned cold and windy by the 3 p.m. first pitch. A stiff wind blowing in from right field kept the offense at bay for the majority of the game.

The Toppers (6-2) and Flyers (0-4) struggled through the first five innings, mustering only three combined hits.

Coach Joel Murrie said he refused to use the wind as an excuse for his team’s poor hitting.

“I don’t think the wind was a factor, we just had some poor at-bats and poor pitch selection,” Murrie said. “We just need to work on some of the fundamentals and our hitting mechanics.”

Western broke the scoreless tie with a mini-two out rally in the bottom of the sixth. Vallejo singled to center, then advanced to second base after picking-up his first stolen base of the season. Johnston’s RBI single to center field brought in Vallejo and gave the Toppers a 1-0 lead.??

“We started off a little slow, but we got it together when it mattered,” second basemen Matt Johnston said.

Johnston’s RBI single extended the junior’s hit streak to seven games, but the leadoff hitter isn’t too concerned with the streak. Johnston plans to “just keep swinging.”?

His .344 batting average ranks third on the team.

The Toppers put the game away with another two out surge in the eighth inning. A Vallejo double down the right field line scored Travis Brown. Western rounded out the scoring with Johnston stroking a ground-rule double to right, bringing Vallejo home.

“We were outstanding on defense and got some clutch hitting,” Murrie said. “Again, the more we play, the more we will find out some things we need to work on as a team.”

Murrie hopes his Toppers will work out any remaining kinks in the machine before Northern Iowa comes calling this weekend. The Panthers of the Missouri Valley Conference will pay a visit to Denes Field for a three-game series starting at 3 p.m. Friday.

Third-year Northern Iowa coach Rick Heller has a rough time replacing the 16 lost lettermen from last season’s 30-25-1 team. After dropping their first six games, the Panthers received a boost by defeating No. 22 ranked Texas Tech 10-9 Sunday in Lubbock.

Western’s unexpected hot start has begun to attract national attention Tuesday, the Toppers entered the Sports Weekly/ESPN Coaches poll ranked 43rd, one spot ahead of rival Louisville.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].