Wichita State reliever Brandon Peterson uses a physical reminder to help him recover from a mistake. He brushes his hand across the back of his cap, a prompt to wipe away the bad and get ready for the next pitch.
Peterson needed that tool to regain control of an eighth inning that almost wrecked the Shockers in Friday’s 5-4 win over Evansville at Eck Stadium. To that point, the Shockers looked sharp They scored all five of their runs with two outs and starter Cale Elam held the Aces to one run through seven innings.
Peterson’s balk gave Evansville a run in the eighth and he had to quickly regroup to end the inning with runners at first and third. He escaped that jam and retired the Aces in order in the ninth.
“Flush it and get to the next pitch,” he said. “One of the big things (coach Brent Kemnitz) talks about is the mental game. It doesn’t matter what you do the pitch before. You can’t control it anymore, so you just make sure to go after it and get the next one.”
WSU (22-17, 8-2 Missouri Valley Conference) won its fourth straight conference game to remain in first place. Evansville (14-24, 5-5) lost its seventh straight game.
The Aces made the Shockers nervous with three unearned runs in the eighth. Elam had the inning under control when, with one out and two runners on, he fielded a groundball by Jason Hockemeyer. He stumbled briefly while turning to second and threw into center field, allowing a run to score and cut WSU’s lead to 5-2.
Elam, normally an excellent fielder, made the reaction play and it threatened to spoil his outing. He recovered, with the bases loaded, to pick a pinch runner off first base for the second out. But a wild pitch allowed a run to score from third and a walk ended his night after 7 2/3 innings and 122 pitches.
“Elam threw really well,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. “If he hadn’t touched that ball, it was a sure double play. After he had it, all he had to do was toss it to first and everything would have been fine.”
Peterson came on with runners at first and third. First baseman Casey Gillaspie suggested the third-to-first pickoff play that worked for Elam earlier in the inning. Peterson, after throwing a ball to Shain Showers, tried and was called for a balk, scoring Hockemeyer from third to cut WSU’s lead to 5-4.
Stephenson loved Elam’s use of the play, which caught pinch-runner Michael Eckstein off first. Peterson, a transfer who started to learn the pickoff this season, didn’t execute it as smoothly. He vowed to keep working on it.
“I don’t know why we tried the second third-to-first move,” Stephenson said. “It wasn’t important at that time. We had two outs. Sometimes, strange things happen you don’t know about.”
Peterson ended the threat with a fly ball to right field. In the ninth, he got Eric McKibban to foul out with the count full and struck out the next two batters to record his fourth save.
“My slider was finally back to where it’s been,” he said.
WSU took a 4-0 lead in the third, pecking away at Aces starter Kyle Freeland with five two-out singles. Micah Green produced a crucial infield single, beating the throw by a step, that drove in two runs. Gillaspie scored from second for the fourth run of the inning. Gillaspie kept running around third and assistant coach Jim Thomas, at third because Stephenson’s back problems kept him in the dugout, waved him in. Gillaspie slid in safely to beat the throw from the first baseman.
“I was just running hard and J.T. sent me,” Gillaspie said. “I knew exactly what he was thinking and kept running as hard as I could.”
Gillaspie got to second after he singled under Showers’ glove at shortstop and into center field. The relay throw went to third, allowing Gillaspie to move up.
“That’s what happens when you’re on a seven-game slide,” Evansville coach Wes Carroll said. “We missed signs. We got picked off in the eighth. Tremendous amount of mental mistakes.”
Bobbit out — WSU infielder Cody Bobbit will miss at least four weeks with a broken right hand. The injury could keep him out for the rest of WSU’s season.
He was hit in the hand by a pitch during Tuesday’s game against Kansas State. Bobbit, a sophomore, started 20 games and hit .289 with nine steals in nine attempts. In the past 10 games, he hit .353 (12 for 34).
A return in four weeks would bring Bobbit back around May 14, when WSU meets Oklahoma State. It finishes the regular season that weekend with a series against Northwestern, followed by the MVC Tournament beginning May 21.
Evansville’s injury list is also growing. First baseman John Day separated his left shoulder after sliding into second base in the second inning. The Aces are already without infielder Jake Mahon, who was hitting. 330, due to a broken hamate bone in his left wrist.
E — Hathcoat, Elam. DP — Evansville 2. LOB — Evansville 5, WSU 8.2B — Baker (9). S — Bayliff, Zimmerman. SB — Bayliff (5). CS — Kaczmarski, Zimmerman.
|Elam W,5-1||7 2/3||8||4||2||2||6||2.18|
|Peterson S,4||1 1/3||0||0||0||0||2||1.42|
WP — Elam 2. HBP — Ramon (by Elam). Umpires — Randy Wetzel, home; Ben Harlow, first; Shane Ravellette, third. T — 2:38. A — 2,711.