Red Wolves Baseball Preview: WKU

The Arkansas State Red Wolves climb the hill this weekend heading to Bowling Green, Kentucky to take on the only Sun Belt Conference team thus far to have beaten the No. 4 Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are 16-14 overall with a 4-5 record in the Sun Belt.

The Red Wolves enter the three-game set with a 7-2 mark in the Sun Belt in sole possession of second place with a 16-13 overall record trailing the Cajuns by only a game but also leading the Texas State Bobcats by only a game. A-State has as two game lead over WKU in the conference race.

Last season A-State took 2-of-3 from WKU in Jonesboro before knocking them out of the Sun Belt Conference tournament. The last time these teams met in Bowling Green WKU took 2-of-3. The Red Wolves have won five of the last seven meeting between the two. This will be the last time they will face each other as members of the Sun Belt Conference.

A-State looks to continue pushing ULL for the regular season Sun Belt crow and a series win at WKU would help in that endeavor. The Red Wolves have won their first three conference series after a rough start to the season. The Hilltoppers are looking to rebound after dropping their last two conference series now that a key hitter, Cody Wofford, has returned to the team from injury.

Comparisons

Western Kentucky's pitching staff is allowing opponents a .272 average and 5.4 runs a game while Arkansas State is hitting .276 and is scoring 6.1 runs a game. The Hilltoppers have given up 65 extra-base hits on the year including 19 home runs while the Red Wolves have hit 72 extra-base hits with eight home runs.

Arkansas State's pitching staff is allowing opponents a .262 average and 4.4 runs a game as WKU is hitting .283 and scoring 5.0 runs a game. The Red Wolves have allowed 58 extra-base hits, 12 of which are long balls while the Hilltoppers have hit 75 extra-base hits with 11 home runs.

Hilltoppers Impressions

WKU as a team relies on strong starting pitching getting deep into games in order to get a lead to their closer. Offensively, the Hilltoppers are composed of hitters capable getting timely extra-base hits. Without a lot of speed on the basepaths, WKU relies on moving runners around the bases mostly through piling up hits as opposed to a sacrifice game, but is capable of sacrificing when necessary

WKU welcomes the return of Cody Wofford who is one of the better hitters in the lineup. Wofford missed the previous two Sun Belt Conference series for the Hilltoppers so his offensive impact hasn't really been faced by prior conference foes. Wofford leads the team in slugging percentage (.456) and before his injury was at the top, or near the top, in several offensive categories.

Ryan Messex is hitting .382 with an on-base percentage of .422 to lead the team in each category and is also second in slugging (.447). Scott Wilcox is a team captain leading the team in doubles (8), RBI (19) and walks (24) while hitting .283 and being second in on base percentage (.409).

The other team captain is Regan Flaherty who is hitting .298 and leads the team in hits (19) coming from a baseball family with his father Ed is a Division III head coach at Southern Maine where he has coached nearly three decades winning almost 70 percent of his games with 21 post-season appearances including 15 straight. Flaherty's brother, Ryan attended Vanderbilt and is the Baltimore Orioles opening day starting third baseman.

The team's emotional spark plug is Ryan Church who is second on the team in RBI (18) while leading the team with four home runs and 50 total bases. Anderson Miller is also a key contributor leading WKU in runs (20) and triples (3) while hitting .337 on the year.

WKU has stolen 17 bases on 31 attempts with 18 sacrifice hits and six sac flies on the season while have a .359 on base percentage and a .386 slugging percentage.

WKU's bullpen is anchored by premier closer Ian Thompkins who has a 1.20 ERA with 30 strike outs in 15 innings pitched with opponents hitting for a .220 average against him.

Brennan Pearson has 12 relief appearances with a 2.08 ERA over 13 innings of work with a .163 OBA. Brandon Allen (1-3, 5.76 ERA) and Sam Higgs (4-2, 5.92 ERA) each have 10 relief appearances for WKU.

Red Wolves Impressions

A-State continues to have a balanced offense benefitting from the combination of timely hitting, speed on the bases, and small ball. Austin Baker seems to embody the offensive mindset leading the team in runs (28), triples (4), home runs (5), total bases (59), slugging percentage (.536), walks (20), on base percentage (.409) and steals (9). Baker is second on the team in hits (32) and RBI (24) while sitting third in hitting at .291.

Stuart Levy had his on base streak snapped, but still is a team leader in hitting (.305) and doubles (10) while sitting second on the team in slugging (.432) and on base percentage (.400). The clutch bat has belonged to Matt Burgess who homered this weekend and leads the team in hits (34) and RBI (30). Lucas Feddersen leads the team in sac hits (5).

A-State has a .373 slugging percentage as a team with a .377 on base percentage with 16 sac flies and 20 sac hits. The speed element has been prevalent in the offense with 39 steals on 47 attempts.

Cody Woodhouse (1.71 ERA, 12 app, .229 OBA) and Morgan Croft (3.00 ERA, 11 app, 4 sv, .224 OBA) close out the bullpen for A-State. Tyler Zuber (2.55 ERA, 10 app, .226 OBA) and Colton Kibler (3.27 ERA, 16 app, .203 OBA) also make major bullpen contributions for A-State.

Game 1, Friday 6:00 PM

Arkansas State – David Owen (So., RHP) 4-0, 3.22 ERA, 36.1 IP, 1.29 WHIP, 14 BB, 35 K, .239 OBA

Owen had another solid outing last Friday night keeping A-State in game long enough to tie and earn extra innings. Owen strikes out 8.7 hitters per nine innings with a 2.5 strike-out-to-walk ratio. Owen averages 5.0 innings per start. Owen leads among starters in record (4-0), ERA (3.22), innings (36.1), WHIP (1.29), strike outs (35) and OBA (.239).

Western Kentucky – Justin Hageman (Sr., RHP) 2-1, 2.41 ERA, 41.0 IP, 1.32 WHIP, 18 BB, 26 K, .267 OBA

Hageman is fresh of a win last Friday at the No. 4 Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. He averages 6.8 innings pitched per start. Hageman is averaging 5.7 strike outs per nine innings with a 1.4 strike-out-to-walk ratio. Hageman leads among starters in record (2-1), ERA (2.41), innings pitched (41.0) and WHIP (1.30).

Game 2, Saturday 3:00 PM

Arkansas State – Chandler Hawkins (Jr., LHP) 2-3, 4.84 ERA, 35.1 IP, 1.44 WHIP, 8 BB, 32 K, .295 OBA

Hawkins pitched well in his last outing against Texas State, a game the Red Wolves would win. He's averaging 5.0 innings per start. Hawkins averages 8.1 strike outs per nine innings with a 4.0 strike-out-to-walk ratio. Hawkins leads among starters in walks (8).

Western Kentucky – Austin Clay (Sr., LHP) 3-2, 5.21 ERA, 38.0 IP, 1.71 WHIP, 15 BB, 27 K, .325 OBA

Clay is the big competitor on the staff averaging 5.1 innings per start. Williams strikes out 6.4 hitters per nine innings with a 1.8 strike-out-to-walk ratio. Clay leads among starters in walks (15) and strike outs (27).

Game 3, Sunday 1:00 PM

Arkansas State – Bradley Wallace (Sr., RHP) 2-3, 5.17 ERA, 31.1 IP, 1.60 WHIP, 13 BB, 25 K, .298 OBA

Wallace is coming off his best start of the season and may be pulling things in place at just the right time. Wallace averages 4.1 innings per start while averaging 7.2 strike outs per nine innings with a 1.9 strike-out-to-walk ratio.

Western Kentucky – Jake Thompson (Sr., RHP) 2-2, 4.42 ERA, 36.2 IP, 1.34 WHIP, 17 BB, 30 K, .242 OBA

Thompson is the power pitcher how locates four pitches while averaging 5.1 innings per start. Thompson averages 7.4 strike outs per nine innings with a 1.8 strike-out-to-walk ratio. Thompson leads among starters in OBA (.242).

The Red Wolves will get the opportunity to hit fastballs as they will see a lot of them from this staff. WKU has its' best offensive weapon back in Wofford and may be ready to make a run.

I will be covering the Red Wolves action for College Baseball Central at http://collegebaseballcentral.com/sun-belt/arkansas-state/

Mark West

College Baseball Central

Twitter: @MarkWestCBC

Email: markwest@collegebaseballcentral.com