These past few days are toughest on the seniors, the players who aren’t sure if their college baseball careers are over.
Wichita State practiced Sunday afternoon, its first official gathering since it was eliminated from the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Wednesday. Since then, the Shockers worked out on their own and kept tabs on conference tournaments and NCAA regional projections. They find out today if their season will continue when the 64-team NCAA regional field is announced. WSU needs to earn one of 34 at-large spots.
“It’s kind of stressful and exciting at the same time,” senior pitcher Josh Smith said. “I’ve been checking the rumors just as much as anybody else around here. It’s nice to know there’s still a little hope.”
How much hope is a matter of guesswork.
Saturday’s results appeared to help at-large teams, with few upsets turning one-bid conferences into two-bid conferences. Despite that, Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt declared WSU (35-25) out of the field after Creighton won the MVC’s automatic bid, reasoning that the MVC won’t get four spots and Missouri State and Indiana State rate ahead of the Shockers. Also working against WSU are its third-place finish in the MVC, its win total, and its 0-2 performance in the conference tournament.
The counter to those arguments rest with WSU’s power rating (RPI) ranked No. 43 (warrennolan.com) and No. 44 (boydsworld.com), well within the range of teams often selected for at-large spots.
“There are reasons to be optimistic,” coach Gene Stephenson said. “But, certainly there are reasons not to be because of past experiences with the Valley not getting recognition.”
Stephenson pointed to several numbers that should put WSU into the selection committee’s discussion.
• WSU’s RPI in the mid-40s is similar or better to six teams that earned at-large bids last season, three of which failed to win conference titles.
• WSU’s strength of schedule rose throughout the weekend, hitting No. 34 on Sunday.
• WSU is 6-8 against top-50 teams and 11-10 against teams ranked 51-100 in warrennolan.com’s rankings.
• The MVC passed Conference USA for the No. 5 rank in warrennolan.com’s rankings, remaining close behind C-USA in boydsworld.com (0.538-0.537).
• The Shockers went 7-3 in their final 10 games and are 8-1 in non-conference games since April 1, including a 5-0 record against the Big 12.
WSU has ended up on the bad end of RPI arguments in past seasons. This season, the RPI supports its candidacy. Few observers would blink if a team ranked in the top 45 of the RPI received an at-large bid out of the Big 12, Big West, West Coast Conference or Conference USA. In a season when the MVC is ranked comparably or better, will the Shockers receive similar treatment?
“Our RPI is No. 43, No. 44,” Stephenson said. “That’s been the factor that kept us out the past two years, then why would we not get the opportunity to be in, with the RPI, this year.”
The Shockers find out how heavily committee members weigh those factors today.