Joe Haddox wasn’t sure if he belonged on the Wichita State baseball team at the start of this season.
Like many freshmen, Haddox questioned his own ability when it was tested against collegiate competition. The questions outnumbered the answers.
Friday’s Missouri Valley Conference opener against Illinois State at Eck Stadium provided an answer, as Haddox delivered his only hit of the game in the bottom of the 12th inning to score the winning run in WSU’s 4-3 victory.
“It kind of eases my mind,” Haddox said. “Knowing that I did something to help this team win a game, that’s all that matters. I’ve never had that feeling in my life before.”
But the benefits will be more lasting for Haddox.
“Now he knows he belongs here and he can compete with everybody in the country,” WSU junior Albert Minnis said. “He can really help us win.”
Tanner Dearman led the game off with a walk and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Johnny Coy in the first inning. Garrett Bayliff lifted WSU to a 2-1 lead after an RBI single in the third inning. After Illinois State took a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning, WSU knotted the score on another sacrifice fly.
The lack of excitement after the fifth inning is a partial credit to the relief pitching, including an outstanding effort from Minnis, who threw three scoreless innings and struck out seven hitters.
When the Redbirds threatened, Minnis seemed to always produce a strikeout to end the rally.
“I was just pounding the zone,” he said. “It makes my job a whole lot easier when they’re swinging through stuff.”
Illinois State had a runner on second base with one out in the 11th inning, but TJ McGreevy struck out the next hitter and coaxed a fly out to end the rally.
McGreevy and Minnis combined to throw seven scoreless innings.
“That was big for us tonight,” Dearman said. “They kept us in it.”
They gave Haddox a chance for redemption.
After earning his fifth start in center field, Haddox had done little to capitalize on the opportunity in his first five at-bats. He reached base once, on a fielder’s choice, struck out twice and stepped to the plate with Bayliff on second base with two outs in the 12th inning 0 for 5 on the night.
He even took a bad swing at the first pitch of that final at-bat.
“You have to be really mentally tough to play this game,” Haddox said. “I was really struggling. But I had to clear my mind and tell myself all that mattered was the right here and right now.”
Haddox connected solidly on the next pitch, a fastball over the heart of the plate, and drove it into the gap in left-center field.
He was rounding second base before he realized what had happened and his teammates spilled onto the field to mob the rookie.
Right in the middle of the mosh pit, Haddox finally had his answer.
“It’s just extremely gratifying,” Haddox said. “To know that I helped my team, that’s all I care about.”
|Illinois State||010||020||000||000||— 3|
|Wichita State||100||010||000||001||— 4|
Two outs when winning run scored.
E — Johnson, Parker. DP — illinois State 2, WSU 2. LOB — Illinois State 10, WSU 15. 2B — Johnson (7), Baker (6), Bayliff (3), Haddox (1). S — Kay, Kelch 2, Doggett. SF — Kay, Coy. SB — Beesley (2), Hinshawk (11), Haddox 2 (2).
|Learned L,1-2||5 1/3||2||1||1||16||2||2.76|
WP — Elam 2. HPP — Baker (by Learned). Umpires — Greg Harmon, home; Jeff Spisak, first; Travis Olson, third. T — 2:33. A — 2,399.