Making his first start in nearly two years, Wichita State right-hander Zach Beringer didn’t take the mound Wednesday at Eck Stadium to soak in the ambience and work off the rust.
Though there were jitters early, Beringer pitched as if he hadn’t missed any time, cutting through the Nebraska-Omaha lineup as WSU survived the Mavericks 5-3.
Beringer missed the 2012 season after sustaining eight fractured vertebrae and knee injuries in an alcohol-related car accident in November 2011. That earned him a 10-game suspension to start this season, making an agonizing wait for Beringer that much more difficult.
After allowing a second-inning run on Wednesday, Beringer established a rhythm, taking little time between pitches in a pace that kept the Mavericks hitters off-balance. Beringer, a sophomore, retired the final 10 batters he faced during his five-inning outing and established a career high with eight strikeouts.
"I was a little nervous about what everything was going to be," Beringer said. "It’s been over a year since I got in a real game and I was pretty excited. I was mentally prepared — I’ve been getting ready the entire offseason and last fall and I’ve just been building up ever since."
Beringer hadn’t pitched since the 2011 Missouri Valley Conference tournament, the conclusion to a promising freshman season in which he appeared in 17 games and posted a 4.01 ERA.
With a chance to enter the starting rotation in 2012, Beringer instead saw his career threatened by the injuries he suffered in the Oklahoma accident. The crash also injured, less seriously, WSU pitcher Tobin Mateychick, who was rehabilitating from elbow surgery at the time before a return late last season.
The initial uncertainty regarding Beringer’s status turned to hope as Beringer’s slow recovery led to a return to practice last fall. The suspension damaged his chances to wind up in the Shockers’ weekend rotation, but he strengthened them Wednesday.
"It was tough the first couple months when I couldn’t hardly walk at all," Beringer said. "It took a lot out of me mentally, knowing that I was so far from playing. I was sitting in the bullpen (Wednesday) knowing it was 15 minutes before gametime and I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t think I’d ever be here again.’ ”
Beringer relaxed following a second inning in which he allowed a run on two hits and a walk, but the Shockers’ hitters were too relaxed for coach Gene Stephenson’s liking following the second inning.
WSU (7-4) led 5-1 after two innings, sending 14 batters to the plate before the third. But the Shockers, who have played seven games in seven days, never added on and WSU’s bullpen allowed the Mavericks to threaten the lead on more than one occasion.
The most dire situation came in the seventh, when Foster Vielock issued three consecutive walks, the last of which scored a run to make it 5-2 and get the go-ahead run to the plate. TJ McGreevy, WSU’s most relied-upon reliever, improved his statistics without throwing a pitch to end the inning.
A first-to-third pickoff move got Tyler Spilchal in a rundown; he was tagged out, and Alex Mortensen was retired between home and third trying to score while the Shockers focused on Spilchal.
The Shockers failed in run-scoring opportunities in the fourth and fifth innings and left the bases loaded in the eighth. Brandon Peterson allowed the tying run to the plate in the ninth but finished a two-inning save.
UNO dropped to 0-4; it scored two total runs in its first three games.
"You have to stay on top of it," Stephenson said. "It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, anybody can beat you. Anybody, anywhere can beat you, and if you’re not out there competing every inning on every pitch, something’s going to happen. The ball bounces a different way or something, anybody can beat you."
DP — UNO 3, WSU. LOB — UNO 8, WSU 8. 2B — McCrite (1), Taylor (2), Messinger (1). S — Gruber. SF — Gillaspie. SB — Gruber (1), Kihle (2), Doggett (2), Harbutz (1), Kirk (1).
WP — Volkers, Peterson. HBP — Coy (by Brady), Baker (by Casey). Umpires — Carlos Martinez, home; Mike Lentz, first; Gregg Mudd, third. T — 2:33. A — 2,187.