The Western Kentucky baseball team handed out too many free passes early and paid the price on Friday’s opening day.
The Hilltoppers (0-1) issued eight walks to Bowling Green State, including five by starter Justin Hageman in an inning of work, and allowed eight runs in the first two innings of a 9-8 loss in 10 innings at Nick Denes Field.
“We looked like the nervous team on our home field, like we didn’t know what was going to happen,” WKU coach Matt Myers said. “We had some things we could’ve cleaned up that probably would’ve limited some runs, but it just comes down to the walks.”
WKU rallied late to send the game to extras, but BGSU pinch-runner Patrick Lancaster scored the deciding run in the top of the 10th inning on an error.
The Toppers had won four of their last six season openers coming in, including victories over BGSU in 2008 and 2011. The Falcons (1-0) hadn’t won an opening weekend contest since that 2008 series against WKU.
WKU will play the second game of the series at 2 p.m. today. The Tops will give the ball to senior left-hander Tim Bado (4-7, 4.37 ERA in 2012).
Here are postgame comments from Myers, relief pitcher Austin Clay and infielder Scott Wilcox:
SCOTT WILCOX, junior infielder
Rallying to tie it: “We didn’t get the best start, but one thing that’s been a staple the last couple years is that we never give up and we always battle. It’s going to be exciting to see how this year plays out with the fight we had today.”
Pitchers finding groove eventually: “It was unbelievable to watch. When you put up zeros, you give our offense a chance to work. We battled back and got back in the game, and anything can happen once that happens.”
AUSTIN CLAY, sophomore pitcher
Coming back: “That whole game, I never really felt like we were going to lose that game until the end. With the way we’ve been hitting the ball in practice, and our arms are so deep, we’re never going to be out of a game.”
He and Tompkins pitching well in relief: “If Ian throws like that, there won’t be too many people that hit him. When I come into the game like that, I just try to bridge the gap … because we’ve got some dudes in the back that can just shut it down.”
On Hageman’s rough start: “I don’t really put too much into that. Everybody knows what he can do, and hopefully the team we play next week looks at those numbers and take him for granted. He’ll make you rethink that in a heartbeat.”
MATT MYERS, coach
On Hageman’s rough start: “I didn’t see it going the way it did. I didn’t see Justin coming out and walking (five) guys. I knew he’d come out with the high velocity, but to lose control like that, that’s tough.”
On pitching depth: “We’ve got a lot of arms to come back, so I’m not worried about our depth on the mound. Just put the ball in play. We hit a lot of hard balls tonight. They just put the ball in play, and when you put that many free guys on the bases in the first three innings, you better get eight runs. If they did that to us, we probably would’ve scored a lot more.”
On Clay and Tompkins: “Ian’s made a lot of improvements. Austin Clay is one of our most improved guys. Pitching in the Friday slot last year gave him a lot of confidence. He’s not scared … and he got in his groove. He’s tough to hit.”
First-game jitters: “We looked like the nervous team on our home field, like we didn’t know what was going to happen. … We had some things we could’ve cleaned up that probably would’ve limited some runs, but it just comes down to the walks.”