Just as concerning to Wichita State as the failure to turn a double play that could have ended the top of the first inning was the Kansas State batter who came to the plate following the mistake Tuesday.
A month ago, giving Jared King a chance in a clutch situation might not have struck fear into an opposing pitcher. An 11-game hitting streak that has helped raise his average 77 points has changed that.
King, K-States junior center fielder, homered on a two-ball, no-strike count against struggling Shockers starter Kris Gardner. A combination of effective KSU pitching and a punchless WSU offense allowed the Wildcats to win 4-1 at Eck Stadium. The Shockers managed two hits and didnt get their first until the sixth inning.
KSU (27-11) swept two games with the Shockers this season, including a come-from-behind 7-6 win last week in Manhattan. The Wildcats returned the favor after WSU won both games the teams played in 2012.
"We have a double-play ball, as routine as it gets," WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. "Then we take forever to get rid of it and we throw it high. Instead of being out of the inning, the next guy comes up and he hits ... it out of the ballpark. Thats the three runs. Other than that, its a 1-1 game and were still playing."
Gardner, expected to be one of WSUs best starters after a promising freshman season, has been reduced to a midweek role and isnt finding much success there, either. He was removed after allowing two earned runs before he escaped the first inning; his record dropped to 1-5 and his ERA jumped to 5.28.
But Gardner could have at least reached the second inning if he and shortstop Erik Harbutz had completed what appeared to be an easy double play. Gardner fielded a Shane Conlon grounder and hit Harbutz in stride, but the throw was slightly high and Harbutz couldnt handle it, earning himself an error.
As he had done with two of the previous three hitters and would do with three of the following four, Gardner fell behind in the count against King and left a pitch in the middle of the plate. The ball sneaked over the left-field wall and the Wildcats had their decisive hit.
"Our motto has been this whole season, weve got to capitalize on their errors," King said. "That helped us out. I was able to get that hit when they probably should have been out of the inning there. Capitalizing on mistakes is what weve been trying to do this season."
KSU pitching had its own early troubles but the Shockers failed to capitalize. Wildcats starter Jake Doller, who walked four batters, was removed without recording an out in the fourth inning.
The Shockers (21-17) left runners in scoring position in the second and third innings and couldnt capitalize on Casey Gillaspies leadoff walk in the fourth, his nation-leading 45th this year.
WSU didnt break through with a hit until Micah Greens sixth-inning infield hit. Tthree outs following Garrett Bayliffs leadoff double in the eighth produced one run instead of the big inning the Shockers needed. Three KSU relievers held WSU to two hits over the final six innings.
"The pitching had to come through then," KSU coach Brad Hill said of the Wildcats taking the early lead. "Then its a matter of throwing zeroes up there, which we did. Still, its four runs on 13 hits we still didnt cash in on a couple other opportunities."
Perhaps as deflating as the defensive miscue in the first were WSUs offensive woes as its pitchers kept the game within striking distance despite a slew of baserunners. The Wildcats stranded 13, failing to get the hit that could have broken open the game.
Kings homer proved to be enough, and on a team with a lineup of nine .300 hitters, King has been standing out recently. He has batted .474 (18 for 38) during his hitting streak with three homers and 13 RBIs. He was batting .280 after the first game of a March 15 doubleheader and now sits at .367.
"At the beginning of the season, I was scrambling a little bit, just putting a little too much pressure on myself," King said. "Ive just been going back to the basics and kind of see-ball, hit-ball. Youve got to keep swinging to get out of slumps. Im out of it now and it feels really good. Its a weight lifted off my shoulders and its helping the team win."
The Shockers failed in another attempt at a marquee win after midweek losses to Arizona State and an earlier sweep by Long Beach State on the road. WSU plays Wednesday against Saint Mary of the KCAC before a weekend Missouri Valley Conference series at home against Evansville.
"Somehow, some way we have to get to a point where every game means basically everything to us," Stephenson said. "And we have to go out and play that way instead of acting like, well, we gave up three in the first and now its an impossible-type task."
E Harbutz. DP . LOB KSU 13, WSU 7. 2B Dalrymple (2), Bayliff (7). HR King (5). SB Davis (9), Conlon (13), DeBorg (5), Gillaspie (3), Bobbit (9). CS Witt.
|Nixon W,1-0||2 2/3||1||0||0||1||1||5.19|
WP Dollar, Esquivel. HBP Bobbit (by Nixon). Umpires Shawn Arnold, home; Ben Harlow, first; Travis Olson, second; Bob Homolka, third. T 2:50. A 3,252.