Scouting report: Western Kentucky
This weekend the Cajuns and Western Kentucky meet in a three game Sun Belt Conference series at Nick Denes Field in Bowling Green, Kentucky. WKU is 18-11 and 6-3 in the league after dropping two of three in Little Rock last weekend. In their most recent outing, the Toppers beat #25 Louisville 15-5 at Bowling Green Ballpark, which will be the site of the 2012 Sun Belt Tournament.
The Toppers have lost five of their last seven games, and I don’t think its a coincidence that Logan Robbins has been out of the lineup for six of those contests. Robbins leads the club in hitting at .384. He is listed on WKU’s game notes as a probable starter tonight. We’ll see.
Chris Finwood is in his sixth season as the top Top. He’s meticulously built the Hilltoppers into a perennial contender in the Sun Belt Conference. Finney is also one of the nicest guys in the league and is well liked and respected by his peers.
WKU can hit. Their .316 batting average is easily the best in the Sun Belt Conference. The Hilltoppers return most of their position players from a year ago. Jared Andreoli (.378) and Kes Carter (.366) find themselves on base a lot, along with Robbins. But their big guy is the guy behind the plate. Matt Rice (.342-6-33) leads the league in homers and RBI. He’s poised, here in his senior season, to be WKU’s all time leader in most offensive categories.
WKU lost the Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year, Matt Ridings, but returns two weekend starters from a year ago. Tanner Perkins has taken over as the ace of the staff. The lefty is 6-1 with a 2.09 ERA and averages almost a strikeout an inning. Perkins has been the Friday night starter for the Hilltoppers all season, but will pitch on Saturday this week. Finwood will give the Friday night start to a freshman, Justin Hageman. He’s 4-3 with an ERA of 3.00. Righthander Brian Edelen (4-3, 4.86) will go on Sunday.
In the bullpen, Phil Wetherell and Ross Hammonds have become their go-to guys. Wetherell is 0-1. with two saves and a 3.72 ERA. Hammonds has also been impressive (0-1, 3 saves 3.96.) Their closer from a year ago, All-Conference performer Rye Davis has struggled this season at times. Finney still uses him, but he’s not the lockdown guy he was from February-April of last year. Davis’ numbers ar3n’t impressive (1-2, 7.94) but he has three saves.
All of Finwood’s teams have had one thing in common. They’re very very good defensively. WKU’s fielding percentage of .978 is right there with the Cajuns and just behind Troy. But the Cajuns and Trojans play on turf, which makes the Toppers’ defensive numbers that much more impressive.
Western Kentucky isn’t going to beat itself. If the Cajuns are going to win the series, they’ll have to hit the ball. The Cajuns pitching staff held FAU to five runs last weekend. That probably isn’t going to happen against this Hilltopper team. Expect the Toppers to score some runs. The Cajuns will have to solve the pitching staff, especially Perkins on Saturday, if they’re going to come back to Lafayette with a series win.
Remember, tonight’s game can be heard on ESPN1420 with pregame at 5:30. 96.5 KPEL will join the broadcast in time for the first pitch at 6. Tomorrow and Sunday, 96.5 KPEL takes over both games with pregame at 2:30 Saturday and 10:30 Sunday.