WKU pounded out 15 more hits and scored a season-high 11 runs to complete its sweep of Southern Illinois
WKU begins its home schedule with the Salukis for the second-straight season
The Hilltoppers pay visits to Belmont and No. 1 Vanderbilt to start their midweek slate.
This is the second of a three-part series previewing the upcoming 2015 WKU Baseball season. Check back Friday for the final preview detailing WKU's outfield.
WKU head baseball coach Matt Myers enters his fourth season at the helm of the Hilltopper baseball program, and his eighth season overall on the Hill.
Myers guided WKU to 29 wins in 2014, the Hilltoppers' most victories since the 2011 season. WKU's 15-15 mark in Sun Belt Conference play earned a fifth-place finish in the league standings. Myers and his staff focused on bringing in offensive talent during the 2013 offseason and that focus showed in 2014 as the Hilltoppers finished the regular season ranked seventh in the nation with 116 doubles, 18th with 560 hits and 26th with a .416 slugging percentage. WKU tallied at least 10 hits in 31 of 57 games and out-hit its opponents on 37 ocassions.
The Hilltoppers were fast out of the gate for the second-straight season, starting the year with a 10-5 record, which was headlined by a win at No. 4 Vanderbilt, the eventual 2014 College World Series Champion, and a sweep of 2013 NCAA Regional qualifer Illinois in Bowling Green. WKU knocked off the fourth-ranked Commodores 3-2 on Feb. 25 to become the first team in WKU Athletics' history to defeat the eventual national champions. The Hilltoppers were the first team in the nation to defeat two Top 5 teams on the road in 2014 as they also took down No. 1 Louisiana-Lafayette 14-3 in the opening game of their league series on March 29. WKU's 14-3 win over the top-ranked Cajuns was the largest margin of victory for any team against Louisiana-Lafayette in 2014. The Cajuns wound up with a national best 58 wins in 2014 and earned a No. 6 national seed in the NCAA Tournament. Four teams in the nation wound up winning 50 games or more during the 2014 season and WKU played three of them (Vanderbilt, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisville), going 2-4 in those contests.
Myers coached senior pitcher Justin Hageman to a First-Team All-Sun Belt Conference caliber season, guiding his ace to a 6-2 record with a 2.63 ERA. Hageman registered nine quality starts and won all of his games against Sun Belt foes on his way to becoming WKU's first First-Team All-SBC pitcher since Matt Ridings in 2010. Junior reliever Ian Tompkins also thrived in 2014, setting a single-season WKU record with 14 saves and earning First-Team All-SBC honors. Tompkins was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 14th round and was named a Third-Team Academic All-American following the 2014 season.
Five Hilltoppers finished 2014 with batting averages better than .300, led by Second-Team All-SBC outfielder Anderson Miller's clip of .335. Miller pounded out 67 hits, scored 40 runs, drove in 33 RBI and had 18 extra-base hits as a sophomore to lead the Hilltopper offense. Junior first baseman Ryan Church also flourished in his first year on the Hill, leading WKU with 38 RBI and seven home runs on his way to Second-Team All-SBC honors.
WKU finished 2014 with a 29-28 record with an 8-16 record against teams that finished Top 100 in the RPI. Two of those eight wins came at Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Lafayette, who both finished Top 10 in RPI and combined to win 108 games. The Hilltoppers' opponents were a combined 716-625 (.533) in 2014 and five foes advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Myers led the Hilltoppers to 28-29 record during the 2013 season, including a 16-14 clip in Sun Belt Conference play. WKU's 16 wins in league play marked the sixth time in the past seven seasons that the Hilltoppers have finished .500 or better in the league. WKU finished fifth in the regular season standings in a banner year for the conference, which saw a record four teams earn bids to the NCAA Baseball Regionals.
Myers, who is known for his ability to develop pitchers, aided the Hilltoppers' pitching staff to 479 strikeouts in 2013, equaling the school record initially set in 2008 when Myers was the pitching coach. WKU's 479 strikeouts led the Sun Belt Conference in the regular season, as did the 163 batters struck out looking. WKU has recorded a league-high 334 strikeouts looking in two seasons under Myers.
WKU jumped out to a quick start in Sun Belt Conference play in 2013, holding or sharing the conference lead for the first five weeks of league play. The Hilltoppers kicked off conference action and ended the regular season with sweeps of rival Middle Tennessee, marking the first time in program history WKU went 6-0 against the Blue Raiders. WKU also took the series against regular-season co-champion Troy for the second-straight season, another program first.
Myers' WKU squad had a knack for playing its best against the toughest competition in 2013, picking up wins over three nationally-ranked opponents for the first time since 2005, including a pair of victories over No.8 ranked Kentucky and No.8 ranked Louisville, who advanced to the College World Series. The Hilltoppers also defeated Kentucky later in the season when the Wildcats were ranked No.24. WKU picked up six wins against teams that finished the regular season ranked Top 50 in the RPI and defeated six different NCAA Regional qualifiers a total of nine times.
Under Myers direction, five WKU pitchers struck out 50 or more batters in 2013, led by Saturday starter Andrew Edwards' 75 strikeouts. Friday night ace Tanner Perkins rebounded from a 2012 season-ending injury to post solid numbers, fanning 51 batters in 63 innings of work. Sophomores Austin Clay and Ian Tompkins emerged as lethal options out of the bullpen, combining to strike out 115 batters in 109 innings of work. The duo limited hitters to a .211 batting average and surrendered just 44 earned runs. WKU finished the regular season with an average of 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings, ranking eighth nationally.
Senior slugger Ryan Huck strung together one of the best offensive seasons in WKU history under Myers, slugging .694 and blasting 16 home runs in his final campaign. Huck led WKU in virtually every offensive category including batting average (.367), doubles (16), home runs (16), RBI (56), total bases (136), slugging percentage (.694) and on-base percentage (.469).
Both Huck and Edwards were selected in the 2013 MLB Draft, with Edwards going in the 19th round to the Kansas City Royals and Huck being selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 27th round.
Myers, who spent four years as an assistant coach at WKU before being named the permanent head coach on July 11, 2011, has 20 years of Division I experience as a head coach, assistant coach and a student-athlete.
In his first season as head coach at WKU, Myers' Hilltoppers went 25-33 in 2012, persevering despite battling difficult injuries throughout the season, including star pitcher Tanner Perkins, who was lost for the season on March 3. The left-handed starter had posted a 7-4 record in 2011, to go along with a 2.36 ERA, and was 1-0 with a 3.22 ERA in three starts before the injury in 2012.
Despite the loss of Perkins, the WKU pitching rotation relied heavily on the emergence of left-handed starters Tim Bado and Austin Clay, who won a combined eight games in 2012. Clay performed well down the stretch, winning over rival Middle Tennessee in the final series of the season, and allowed only 19 walks in 74.0 innings of work.
Myers helped reliever Taylor Haydel have a career year in 2012, leading WKU and the Sun Belt Conference with with a 2.35 ERA in 23 appearances out of the Hilltopper bullpen, to go along with a pair of starts. Haydel worked 65.0 innings in his junior campaign, striking out 74 batters, while walking only 12, which is good for nearly a 7:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The Hilltopper pitching staff as a whole struck out 443 in 2012, which increased from 414 strikeouts in 2011. The 443 strikeouts ranked second in the Sun Belt Conference, as WKU averaged 7.45 strikeouts per nine innings. The Hilltopper pitching staff also limited the deep ball, allowing a Sun Belt low 22 home runs on the year, which was 12 less than the next-closest school.
On the offensive side, Myers saw his Hilltopper squad bring a more patient approach to the batter's box in 2012, as WKU drew 277 walks on the year, good for the sixth-most in program history, and the most since drawing 290 free passes in 2009.
Arguably the biggest win for Myers and his staff in 2012 came at Bowling Green Ballpark on May 1, as the Hilltoppers took down 18th-ranked Louisville 8-1 in front of 2,323 fans. The win gave WKU its first win over a ranked opponent since knocking off 25th-ranked Louisville in 2011, and was the highest ranked opponent the Hilltoppers have defeated since beating No. 18 Vanderbilt on March 16, 2010.
Myers' Hilltoppers held Louisville to just one run on four hits, as the WKU bullpen went four innings, not allowing a single hit after starter Ian Thompkins allowed just one run on four hits over 6.0 innings of work. The win at Bowling Green Ballpark moved the Hilltoppers to 4-0 at the venue all-time in regular season games, outscoring opponents 58-22 during those four games.
Following the win over Louisville, WKU responded to finish the regular season 6-5, including taking two of three on the final weekend of the season against conference rival Middle Tennessee, which secured the Hilltoppers a spot in the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament. WKU clinched a berth in the conference tournament after taking a 5-4, 13-inning thriller over the Blue Raiders at Nick Denes Field in game two of the series.
Despite the loss of five seniors following the 2012 season, Myers and his coaching staff put together a stellar signing class stocked full of high school and junior college talent. In what was Myers' first official signing class since taking over the reins of the WKU program, the Hilltopper head coach ended up with 14 signees in the class, with seven from the state of Kentucky, including four from within a 30-mile radius of Bowling Green. The class spanned from seven different states, with five junior college players looking to make immediate impacts in 2013.
Throughout his coaching career, Myers has coached 30 professional draft picks or free agent signees, 16 all-conference pitchers, six freshman All-Americans, three first-team All-Americans, two conference pitchers of the year, and two conference freshmen of the year. Myers, who was WKU's associate head coach before his appointment to head coach, has also coached five pitchers selected in the top 10 rounds of the MLB First Year Player Draft.
Under Myers' guidance, the Hilltopper pitching staff has finished in the top three in team ERA in the Sun Belt Conference in three of the last six seasons, including a 4.33 team ERA in 2010, ranking 29th in the nation.
At the end of that 2010 season, three pitchers on Myers' staff were chosen in the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft, as sophomore closer Rye Davis was taken in the 36th round by the Cleveland Indians, Bart Carter was a 39th-round selection by the Minnesota Twins and Matt Ridings went in the 41st round to the Kansas City Royals.
In a short time in the minor leagues, Ridings has been elevated to Class A Advanced Wilmington after being named a Midwest League All-Star with the Kane County Cougars in 2012.
Myers joined the WKU baseball staff in July of 2007 and was promoted to associate head baseball coach following his second season on the staff in 2009.
Before joining the WKU baseball staff, Myers spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Auburn University, joining Tom Slater's staff with the Tigers. Myers served as an assistant at Auburn with former Hilltopper head coach Chris Finwood, who was an assistant coach at Auburn at the time of Myers' arrival.
In his first year at Auburn, Myers helped guide the Tiger pitching staff to a 3.89 team ERA, the lowest by a Tigers staff in 10 years. The team also posted 21 saves and surrendered just 169 walks during the 2005 season - the fewest walks issued by any staff in the Southeastern Conference. Myers saw four of his pitchers selected in the first 13 rounds of the 2005 MLB First Year Player Draft.
Prior to his arrival at Auburn, Myers served as the head coach at UNC Asheville for four seasons, earning Big South Conference Coach of the Year honors in 2003. Taking the position at the age of 26 - the youngest Division I head coach at the time - Myers directed a turnaround within the Bulldog baseball program, finishing in the top half of the league in each of his final three years at Asheville, including 27 wins in 2003, leading to his Coach of the Year honor. Myers, much like he has done everywhere he has been, developed pitching during his time with the Bulldogs, as his staff set five school records during his tenure, and saw seven of his pitchers sign professionally and four others earn Freshman All-America honors.
As a player, Myers pitched two seasons at Tennessee (1996-97), posting a 13-4 career record and helping the Volunteers to a pair of NCAA Regional appearances. The 1996 Tennessee team was one win shy of making the College World Series, the equivalent of being a Super Regional finalist. His .765 winning percentage ranks fifth all-time at Tennessee. He also pitched a season at Cal State-Sacramento (1994) and Sacramento City College (1995).
A native of Carmichael, Calif., Myers is married to the former Michelle Gillum of Celina, Ohio. The couple has a son, Carson.
The Myers File
WKU head coach Matt Myers
(on 2014-15 signing class)
"I'm excited to announce the class of 2014," said Myers. "This is a very important class as we enter Conference USA in the 2015 season. This class has hit needs with players that I think can make an immediate impact from day one. Spearheading our recruiting, Blake Allen and Brendan Dougherty, did a fantastic job of evaluating and generating the relationships to form another very good class that has the chance to make an immediate impact on our program."
(on being hired as the head baseball coach at WKU)
"I am so excited and grateful to have the opportunity to be the next head baseball coach at WKU. I want to thank President Ransdell and Ross Bjork for their trust and support in me to take this program to the next level. Having put so much into this program and being a proud resident of Bowling Green, it means more than I can express to have this opportunity. This is much more than a job, because this community is so special to us and the support our family has received has been incredible. I am looking forward to getting our recruits in and our players back. We will have the enthusiasm, energy and passion necessary to get back to trying to win a Sun Belt Conference Championship and get back into the NCAA Regionals. That is the goal every year and that is the goal this year. The guys have been working hard and playing great over the summer, and I am really proud of those guys in how they supported this entire process. They did a heck of a job and showed a heck of an amount of maturity and I am real appreciative to our players. I couldn't be happier to be the next head coach in a place that I want to be for a long time. WKU is a special place and a special university and our program has so much potential. It is a great time to be a part of what is going on here."
Former WKU Director of Athletics Ross Bjork
(on the hiring of Matt Myers)
"Our program has produced significant and meaningful achievements on the field and in the classroom over the last four years, and our mission was to find the best individual to sustain the momentum we have achieved and also elevate the WKU baseball program to the next level. The level of interest shown in this position was tremendous, which is a clear indication of how much respect our program has nationwide. The list of candidates who showed interest included individuals with major league baseball playing experience, current collegiate head coaches, former head coaches, and current assistant coaches from major conferences throughout the country. However, as our search unfolded, it became clear that Matt Myers was the ideal person to serve as our next head baseball coach. He clearly demonstrated that he has both the right attitude and the blueprint for success that our program needs moving forward. He has high level experience and a proven record of success at multiple levels as a student-athlete, assistant coach and head coach. He also has the respect of his peers, our student-athletes and our community, and no one knows and understands all facets of the WKU baseball program like Matt does. I know that Matt will give his full effort and I have complete confidence that he is the perfect person for our job and that his leadership will enable us to consistently produce the results and high level of success our university, program and community deserves."