BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – WKU opens up its 96th season of baseball on the Hill and the third season of the Matt Myers era this weekend as the Hilltoppers host the Salukis of Southern Illinois at Nick Denes Field. First pitch times are schedule for 3 p.m. (CT) on Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Southern Illinois’ trip to Bowling Green will mark the third-straight season in which the Hilltoppers and Salukis have met, with Southern Illinois holding a 3-2 series edge in that span. WKU trails the all-time series 25-10 but has taken four of the last six meetings at Nick Denes Field.
The Hilltoppers have taken at least two games in their season-opening three-game series in five of the past seven seasons and are 4-3 in season-opening games since the start of the 2007 season.
Senior right-handed pitcher Justin Hageman will make his second-career opening day start for the Hilltoppers after closing 2013 with 25 strikeouts and just nine earned runs allowed in his final five starts. Hageman is WKU’s most experienced pitcher with 33 career starts, striking out 175 batters and sporting a career ERA of 4.27.
Hageman will duel with Southern Illinois’ right-handed pitcher Todd Eaton, who was 1-3 with a 3.68 ERA in a relief role for the Salukis in 2013.
WKU will start three seniors on the mound during the opening weekend, with left-handed Austin Clay getting the ball on Saturday and right-handed Jake Thompson getting the Sunday nod. Clay boasted a 4.28 ERA in 24 appearances in 2013, ranking second on the team with 73.2 innings pitched and third with 56 strikeouts. Thompson made two mid-week starts and was a reliable reliever for WKU in 2013, striking out 30 batters and surrendering 11 earned runs in 18 appearances.
WKU is coming off a 28-29 season that saw the Hilltoppers take down three Top 25 opponents and six teams that finished the 2013 regular season ranked Top 50 in the RPI. Sixteen letterwinners return while 15 newcomers aim to help WKU build off 2013’s success. Southern Illinois went 25-33 in 2013 and brings back 17 letterwinners from a year ago.