At the end of last season, Aaron LaBrie had officially become a head case.
Once a top high school pitching prospect, the lefty’s finesse approach that was so effective in Sioux Falls, S.D., was failing to translate to the next level out of the bullpen on the Wichita State baseball team.
“I lost all of my confidence,” LaBrie said after WSU’s 4-1 victory over Air Force on Wednesday. “I had to get my head right.”
Consider LaBrie cured.
The junior has found peace with his role as a reliever in college and is pitching the best he has in his career. LaBrie tacked on four more scoreless innings Wednesday to lower his ERA to 0.85, which is second best in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“I’ve started to like coming out of the bullpen because you get to pitch more than once a week,” LaBrie said. “But then you have to be mentally ready to pitch every day because you never know when you’re going to get called in to go pitch.”
On Wednesday, LaBrie was summoned to clean up the mess starter Zach Beringer created to start the sixth inning. Beringer blanked Air Force for five innings, but loaded the bases and failed to record an out before being pulled.
LaBrie limited the damage to one run — Air Force tied the score 1-1 on a Seth Kline sacrifice fly — and retired all 12 batters he faced.
The success of LaBrie isn’t the result of adding a new out pitch or throwing harder. The difference is simple, LaBrie said.
“It’s all about confidence,” he said. “If you’re lacking confidence, you’re not really throwing everything to the best of your ability. You’re nervous everything is going to get hit. You walk more people when throw that way. And even when you throw a strike, it’s not as sharp as it would be if you really believed in it.”
Wichita State’s offense once again registered a non-aesthetically pleasing performance, as it scored the game-winning run in the eighth inning on a bases-loaded walk drawn by Dayne Parker after Casey Gillaspie (single), Johnny Coy (walk) and Tyler Baker (single) reached base.
In the last nine games, which includes six losses, the Shockers’ offense has generated an average of fewer than three runs a game. Just connecting a barrel on the ball has become a challenge for WSU.
“They say it’s the toughest thing to do in all of sports,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. “We make it look that way.”
Insurance wasn’t collected until Joe Haddox continued the rally in the eighth inning by slapping a single into center field to drive in two runs and provide the final margin.
“I’m a freshman and I’m still trying to figure some stuff out,” Haddox said. “Whenever I get an opportunity to prove myself, I have to make something happen. I just wanted to give it a chance.”
Haddox registered a career-high four at-bats in his fourth start of the season. After coming through with a clutch hit for a struggling offense, Haddox gave himself a chance to see more time.
“I think the coaches are pretty happy about it,” Haddox said. “It worked out well, so I’m pretty happy.”
|T. Baker 3b-c||4||1||1||0||0||1||.320|
E — Thorne. DP — WSU 2. LOB — Air Force 4, WSU 10. 2B — Coy (4). SF — Kline. SB — Bast (5).
|Hourin L,0-1||1 1/3||2||3||3||2||1||5.79|
HBP — Bast, Baska (by Beringer). Umpires — Travis Olson, home; Brice Glidewell, first; Sean Bolte, third. T — 2:15. A — 2,235.