Senior right-handed pitcher Justin Hageman was strong in his 2014 debut, working 6.0 innings.
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – WKU exploded for two runs in its first four at bats of the 2014 season but an eighth-inning rally by Southern Illinois dropped the Hilltoppers 3-2 in their season-opener Saturday afternoon at Nick Denes Field.
WKU came out with hot bats out of the gate, recording three hits and scoring two runs in its first four at bats of the game. Junior shortstop Cody Wofford led off with an infield single, senior second baseman Scott Wilcox doubled deep into right field to score Wofford and junior first baseman Ryan Church roped an RBI double down the right field line to score Wilcox.
The Salukis got one run back in the second inning via an RBI groundout by Will Farmer to cut WKU’s lead to 2-1, which it held up until SIU’s two-run rally in the eighth inning.
Sophomore Anderson Miller led off the ninth inning with a walk and junior catcher Ryan Messex followed up with a sacrifice bunt to move the tying run into scoring position. However, senior outfielder David Simmons, who blasted a triple earlier in the seventh inning, went down swinging as did Wofford to end the game.
Senior right-handed pitcher Justin Hageman was strong in his 2014 debut, working 6.0 innings, scattering three hits, surrendering no earned runs and striking out four batters. Hageman’s start was one of the finest of his career, as his zero earned runs allowed was a career-best in a game in which he started and lasted at least five innings.
Josh Bartley was the first out of the bullpen for WKU, throwing six strikes in eight pitches to mow down the Salukis in order. The sophomore right-hander ran into some trouble in the eighth and was credited with the loss, finishing the day with 1.1 innings of work with two runs allowed. Junior Brandon Allen made his first-career appearance in the eighth and worked 1.2 innings with a strikeout and no runs allowed.
WKU’s 3-2 loss was the 40th game decided by one-run since 2012, with the Hilltoppers holding a 20-20 record in such instances. The Hilltoppers also opened the 2013 with a one-run decision against Bowling Green State.
WKU will aim to rebound and take the series from SIU in Sunday’s double-header. First pitch time for game one is slated for 11 a.m. (CT) while the second game will begin 40 minutes following the conclusion of the first. Senior lefty Austin Clay gets the ball in game one for WKU and senior Jake Thompson will start on the mound in game two.
Sunday’s game will be the debut of WKU’s new season-long promotion, Sunday Fun Day. Sunday games will be free to children ages 12 and under throughout the season as the youngsters will have the opportunity to run around the bases on the field and get autographs from WKU players following the game.