Tag Archives: Chris Finwood

BASEBALL: Tops’ ‘soft’ performance leads to 10th-inning loss to FIU

If winners sacrifice more than their opponents, then it should come as no surprise that Florida International knocked off Western in 10 innings Friday night.

The Golden Panthers (23-14, 9-6 Sun Belt Conference) scored three times off sacrifice fly balls — including the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning — to successfully dispatch the host Toppers by a 7-6 score.

A displeased Head Coach Chris Finwood said that outside of senior pitcher Matt Ridings’ performance, the Toppers played as bad as they could in every phase of the game.

“It was probably as soft of a mental approach as I’ve seen this group have,” Finwood said. “It’s like we just didn’t want to win, which is beyond me. But we’ve got to grow up, and we’ve got to toughen up and decide we want to win some of these games.”

Western (28-14, 9-7 Sun Belt) allowed the tying run in the ninth inning and two runs in the top of the 10th inning. The Toppers rallied in the bottom half of the 10th, with sophomore shortstop Logan Robbins singling home sophomore third baseman Casey Dykes, but junior catcher Matt Rice’s popup to right field ended the game and stranded three runners.

Ridings pitched eight innings before being relieved by sophomore pitcher Rye Davis. When he left the game, Western led FIU 5-4.

The game went down as a no decision for Ridings.

“I feel just as bad as if I had gone out there and given up 15 runs in two innings,” Ridings said. “It wasn’t up to me, but it always hurts no matter what the situation is when you get a loss.”

The Golden Panthers capitalized on a Robbins error — one of three on the night — in the top of the second inning, going up 3-0 after FIU sophomore second baseman Garrett Wittels drove home two runs with his first triple of the 2010 season.

Down 3-0 in the bottom of the third inning, the Toppers had a chance to rally after sophomore center fielder Kes Carter scored sophomore right fielder Jared Andreoli. Instead, senior first baseman Jake Wells popped out with the bases loaded to end the third.

It was in the fifth inning that Wells redeemed himself. He hit a three-run home run to give the Toppers a 4-3 advantage and Ridings some run support.

Wells said he didn’t hone in on one thing FIU sophomore pitcher R.J. Fondon was doing, but knowing it was his third trip to the plate in the bottom of the fifth helped.

“Once you get to a guy three times, you kind of learn his tendencies, and we just went with that,” Wells said.

FIU had an answer down 5-4 in the ninth inning, and the Golden Panthers went back to the sacrifice fly. Wittels flied out to right field, allowing junior outfielder Yoandy Barroso to score the tying run.

The loss was Western’s first this season when the Toppers led leaving the eighth inning. Wells said that even as bad as Western played, the squad still had chances to win Friday.

“Everything that was going well for us early in the season isn’t going so well for us now,” Wells said. “We’re just going to have to see what we’re made of and stick it through and get back to what we do best.”

The Toppers continue their series against the Golden Panthers at 3 p.m. Saturday. Finwood said he doesn’t have much room to adjust the lineup with senior second baseman Matt Payton and Robbins both playing injured.

But Finwood said that’s not an excuse, as it’s now time for the Toppers to stop acting like “babies.”

“They’re just not being baseball players,” Finwood said. “They’re being a bunch of babies in my opinion, and it all starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job of either getting them ready or getting some guys in here that are going to be ready.

“I’m not going to put up with that kind of performance — I’m telling you right now.”

Jonathan Lintner


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VIDEO: Finwood, Rice talk after UK win

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Two Western coaches recognized

Head football coach Willie Taggart was named the FootballScoop.com Running Backs Coach of the Year on Thursday. Taggart served as Stanford’s running backs coach for three years before being hired by the Toppers on Nov. 23.

Stanford senior running back Toby Gerhart and junior fullback Owen Marecic led the Cardinal to break a 60-year-old program record with 2,692 rushing yards.

Gerhart ranks second in the country in rushing yards and set Stanford’s single-season rushing record with 1,736 yards this season, breaking his own record of 1,136 yards in 2008. Gerhart was honored with the Doak Walker award for the nation’s top running back and finished second on the Heisman Trophy ballot to Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram.

Taggart was selected by a panel of current and former coaches and previous award winners and will be honored at the American Football Coaches Association Convention in January.

Head baseball coach Chris Finwood was also honored on Thursday, as Rivals.com writer Kendall Rogers named him one of the nation’s rising coaches.

Finwood, who has a 122-107 record entering his fifth year as the Toppers’ coach, has taken the team to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons. Western went 42-20 in 2009, the program’s first 40-win season in 21 years.

Other coaches on the list were Texas Christian’s Jim Schlossnagle, Gonzaga’s Mark Machtolf, Boston College’s Mik Aoki, Kansas’ Ritch Price, Larry Lee of Cal Poly, Kent State’s Scott Stricklin, Ray Birmingham of New Mexico, Rodney Hennon of Georgia Southern, Loyola Marymount’s Jason Gill and Jim Foster of Rhode Island.

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Baseball news and notes

Some notes as the Toppers head into the last five weeks of the baseball season:

– Sophomore catcher Matt Rice went 5-for-13 in last weekend’s sweep of New Orleans, extending his hitting streak to 29 games, a Western record. If the streak continues, he could match the Sun Belt Conference record of 34 games in next Wednesday’s game against Eastern Kentucky and break it at home against Florida Atlantic on April 24.

A few weeks ago, coach Chris Finwood said, “We’ve always known Matt Rice would be a good hitter– he just needs to get his at-bats.” So far, Rice has the most at-bats on the team (141), and he’s made the most of them. He’s got a team-best .418 batting average and 59 hits, with 20 of those being extra-base hits.

– Though Middle Tennessee State is projected to finish eighth in the SBC, the Blue Raiders are sitting at 13-5 in the conference, a game and a half behind Western. MTSU closes the season with series against Louisiana Monroe (fourth), at South Alabama (ninth), and at Troy (third) before hosting a season-ending series against Western.

The Toppers, on the other hand, will travel to Arkansas State (seventh), then face Florida Atlantic (eighth) and Arkansas-Little Rock (10th) at home before going to Murfreesboro.

When senior shortstop Terrence Dayleg and junior third baseman Wade Gaynor were asked about a series that they had circled on their schedules, Dayleg started to answer, but Gaynor grinned and said, “No, I got this one. (Junior pitcher) Matt Ridings and I were just talking about this.”

He mentioned the MTSU series before saying that the team has to take care of business in the three series before they meet the Blue Raiders.

“We have nine games coming up, our next three series, where we feel very confident going in,” he said. “Those are really important.”

Dayleg downplayed the importance of individual games or series, saying no fewer than six times that “every game counts”.

But Finwood mentioned the Blue Raiders as well: “Of course you never know what can happen, but the way it’s shaping up, looks like that last weekend at Middle’s going to be a big one, which is great. They’ve got a heck of a ball club, and good thing, so do we. I like our chances.”

– The Toppers are now 20-1 at Nick Denes Field, with the only loss coming on March 3 to Belmont. They’ve won seven straight SBC series at home, and ten straight home series overall.

“We really do take pride in winning at home, just because it’s our place,” Gaynor said.

Junior first baseman Jake Wells said a few weeks ago that the team is “used to the scenery” at the Nick because they play there throughout the fall, as well as practicing there in January before the season begins.

“When other teams come in, they see how well we’re playing at home,” he said. “There’s maybe sort of an intimidation factor when they come to our place, which helps us a lot.”

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Breaking down the Toppers position by position

C: J.B. Paxson, senior – Paxson had a .289 batting average last season, the second-lowest of the eight position players, but did contribute 54 hits, 45 runs and 31 RBI. He’ll be seeing some time in the bullpen this season, but just how much is still to be determined. Finwood said on Monday that he plans to use Paxson in “situations that aren’t going to create a lot of tension” so he can get some needed experience. He did say that Paxson would see some time on the mound this weekend.

1B: Jake Wells, junior – Wells started every game at first base last year, compiling 76 hits, 18 of which were doubles (second-best on the team, behind third baseman Wade Gaynor). Wells was named last year’s SBC Tournament MVP after hitting .571 with six runs scored and eight RBI in five games.

2B: Matt Payton, junior – Payton and J.B. Paxson actually had very similar numbers last season. Compare: Paxson had 187 at-bats, with 39 runs, 54 hits and 33 runs batted in. In 197 at-bats, Payton contributed 45 runs, 54 hits, and 31 RBI. On the defensive side, coach Finwood has had only good things to say about his middle infield of Payton and Terrence Dayleg– since the guys have been playing together for two years now, “I don’t tell them anything anymore.” The two combined for 10 errors on the season, a statistic that Finwood said was “by far” the best he’s seen in his 21 years in baseball.

SS: Terrence Dayleg, senior – If you were to look at Dayleg’s 2008 statistics, you’d think he was pretty comfortable being second-best. Dayleg had a .347 batting average (tied with Wade Gaynor for second on the team), 78 hits (second to Gaynor), and 55 RBI (second to Chad Cregar). He did have the fewest strikeouts on the year with 26. Finwood couldn’t say enough about Dayleg, turning a question about last year’s College World Series into a solid minute-long exhortation on Dayleg’s defensive improvement.

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Baseball Media Day

We’ll have plenty more on baseball media day in Thursday’s paper. However, coach Chris Finwood, shortstop Terrence Dayleg, outfielder Chad Cregar and pitcher Matt Ridings met with the media today.

Western’s baseball team has gained exposure, which mostly can be accredited to their Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship and appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season.

The major theme of the day for Finwood and Co. was just talking about the expectations they had for this season and their thoughts on being picked to finish first in the Sun Belt.

The Toppers open their season at 3 p.m. Friday against Toledo at Nick Denes Field.

-Andrew Robinson

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