BASEBALL: Tough Times

Michael Casagrande

After starting the 2003 campaign with strong wins at nationally-ranked Central Florida, the Toppers have fallen on hard times.

Western (7-6) had enjoyed the friendly confines of Denes Field the last two weeks, but the 110-mile trek up Interstate Highway 65 to Louisville proved to be a Trail of Tears for the Toppers Tuesday afternoon.

Cardinals ace and Conference USA Pitcher of the Week Scott Barber (4-0, 0.69 ERA) pitched six innings and gave up only one run on four hits.

But it was the Cardinals’ 22 hits that doomed the Toppers in an 18-1 slaughter at Old Cardinal Stadium.

Louisville (10-4) handed the Toppers their worst loss since the 21-2 Louisiana Tech loss in 2000.

Sophomore designated hitter Antone Towns, a Louisville native, singled home senior left fielder David Lower in the top of the first, but that proved to be Western’s only highlight of the day.

Curt Stewart blew the game open in the bottom of the first with a three-run homer over the short-porch in right field to give the Cards a 5-1 advantage.

“We gave up some early runs and didn’t get many opportunities offensively,” coach Joel Murrie said. “18 to 1 obviously looks bad, but I would have felt worse if we lost 2-1.”

Junior lefty Igor Roiberg, Western’s starting pitcher, lasted only 1.2 innings, allowing eight Cardinal runs.

Junior Joe Short and freshman Travis Sewell provided relief for Roiberg, but the Cards offensive onslaught could not be halted.

Sophomore center fielder Rafael Vallejo, had two of the Toppers’ five total hits on the afternoon.

Western dropped last season’s appearance 11-3 at the decrepit Old Cardinal Stadium, but Murrie does not think playing on the artificial turf played a factor in the loss.

Murrie is 26-17 against Louisville in his 24 seasons on the Hill.

Looking to rebound from Tuesday’s crushing defeat, the Toppers entertained Belmont (7-3) yesterday in an afternoon special at Denes Field.

But the Toppers got no relief.

The Bruins recovered after falling behind 1-0 on freshman third baseman Tim Grogan’s RBI double that scored Towns in the second.

Belmont knotted the game at one on Ryan Pettit’s sacrifice fly to deep center field, scoring Josh Radke in the third. Junior righthander Andy Baldwin’s balk in the sixth gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead.

In the top of the ninth, Belmont added two insurance runs to make the final score 4-1.

Lower had two deep fly balls fall painfully short of home runs in yesterday’s affair. Despite hitting two balls to the warning track, the senior didn’t think either one had a chance of leaving the park.

“The first one, I got it on the handle, and the second one I hit solid, but I didn’t think it was gone,” Lower said.

Junior second baseman Matt Johnston extended his hit streak to 12 with a hit in each of the two games this week. Senior shortstop Travis Brown’s streak of consecutive games reaching base also stayed alive after he drew walks in both games.

On a positive note, freshman infielder Matt Ransdell has been cleared to play following a high ankle sprain suffered last week versus Dayton.

The reserve said he “might” be able to play this weekend and expects him to be fully ready when Louisiana-Lafayette comes to town the following weekend.

The Toppers will hope to get back in their winning ways this weekend when Michigan State will visit Denes Field. The Spartans and Toppers are scheduled for a double-header Saturday with the first game slated for noon. The series will conclude with a 1 p.m. match up Sunday.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].