BASEBALL: Tops hope opener won’t be spoiled by rain

Michael Casagrande

A rain-soaked tarp covered the infield at Nick Denes Field today in anticipation for some kind of storm.

What kind of storm is still up for debate.

Western is planning to open its home schedule at 2 p.m. tomorrow against Illinois State, but Mother Nature may have other plans. The National Weather Service calls for temperatures in the lower 50’s with a 60 percent chance of rain.

“We need some help from the weather, but we can’t control that,” head coach Joel Murrie said. “We can get the field in shape if we get some cooperation from Mother Nature. We need some sun and some wind and we need to get the precipitation out of the air.”

Even with the chance of a weekend washout, you won’t find the Toppers watching the Weather Channel. Coming off a series at Central Florida where Western won two of three, the Toppers are focused on the Redbirds.

Illinois State was picked to finish seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference and is coming off a 24-30 season in which the Redbirds lost 17 of 34 road games, but Murrie is not overlooking this weekend’s opponent.

“Nothing is a given,” Murrie said. “I would have felt Central Florida, going into the series, thought they would win at least two out of three against us. Just playing at home is not good enough to beat a good program.”

Being the end of February, Murrie does not expect a sell-out crowd for any of the early season home games.

However, Murrie hopes to draw a few Western fans to the baseball game before they head to the 3 p.m. Topper basketball game at Diddle Arena. The veteran coach hopes fans will make it a “Super Saturday” by catching the afternoon matinee at “The Nick.”

Freshman standout Tim Grogan is slated to make his first appearance at Denes Field this weekend. The slugging third baseman doesn’t expect the return to chilly weather will hurt the team.

“We are used to playing in this weather,” Grogan said. “All spring we have been inside, but we have been outside a couple of times.”

Playing in the cool damp weather, pitching and defense become keys to victory. In their two wins last weekend, the Toppers used both to tame the Golden Knights.

Senior Matt Wilhite was named the Sun Belt Conference’s Pitcher of the Week following a nearly spotless weekend. Wilhite allowed only one run in 7.2 innings on the mound, picking up his 13th career save in a 4-2 season opening win Friday.

The three-game series will conclude with a 1 p.m. showdown Sunday at Denes Field.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].