Wichita State had won four of the five previous meetings with Oklahoma State before this season, games that probably contributed to OSU changing coaches.
New coach Josh Holliday, a former Cowboy who played in some of the rivalry’s hottest games, reversed direction in his debut season. Tuesday’s 7-2 win at Eck Stadium gave No. 20 OSU its first regular-season sweep of WSU since 1994 in the on-and-off-again series. Then, instead of kicking the Shockers while they’re down, he spoke about his respect for the coaching staff, the importance of the rivalry and requested a copy of WSU’s media guide to check out Shocker history.
Most important, he likes the series and thinks it makes sense to continue.
“I was a little kid that grew up around this rivalry and watched all these fantastic players roll through here,” Holliday said. “We’re fairly close together, distance-wise, and it’s hard to get good baseball in this part of the country. I would think this series would have value moving ahead.”
So, that was nice for the Shockers (31-25), who are looking for any positive they can get after their third loss in four games. Again, the hitters struggled to handle a soft-tossing pitcher and a leaky defense opened the door to a big inning. Starter Kris Gardner emerged as the biggest bright spot for WSU. He stitched together his longest outing since March 16, holding OSU (37-13) to three hits and one earned run over six innings.
That continued an upward trend for Gardner, a sophomore lefty who fell out of the weekend rotation in early April. In his past three starts, he has thrown 13 2/3 innings and compiled a 1.32 ERA. WSU will need every arm it can find for next week’s Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and Gardner is moving higher on the depth chart.
“They never were on him very well,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. “He threw strikes and he kept them off-balance and he moved the ball around. He should have that confidence back. He sure pitched a great game.”
Gardner struck out three and walked three. He used his changeup to strike out Jarrett Higgins to end the second. His curveball also worked sharply.
“It’s all confidence with me,” he said.
Gardner and OSU starter Kenton Bevacqua controlled the game through six innings, both giving a lesson in how to frustrate hitters without throwing much more than 80 mph. Bevacqua, also a lefty, struck out seven in 6 1/3 innings and his changeup had the Shockers swinging weakly most of the night.
“On a windy night like this, this is a night hitters should dream of hitting,” Holliday said. “Those two guys, armed with very normal fastball, went out and pitched great baseball. They competed well. They located well. They threw all their pitches.”
The Cowboys, helped by two errors, took a 4-1 lead in the seventh inning. Gardner started the problems by hitting Gage Green with a curveball that got away. Aaron Cornell bunted and first baseman Casey Gillaspie hit him with the throw, allowing Green to speed to third base. Foster Vielock relieved Gardner and struck out Higgins.
That led to a strategy session, in which WSU tried to match lefty Albert Minnis against left-handed pinch hitter Victor Romero. OSU pinch hit right-hander Randy McCurry for Romero and that move trumped the Shockers.
McCurry, who didn’t start because of a bruised shoulder, doubled to right field to score two runs. Saulyer Saxon followed with a double, scoring McCurry for a 3-1 lead. With two outs, Tanner Krietemeier smacked a ball that bounced high on the infield and then dove sharply off shortstop Dayne Parker’s glove for an error. The ball bounced far enough away that Saxon, running with two outs, scored from second to build the lead to 4-1.
The Cowboys added three more in the eighth against two more relievers. Cornell highlighted the inning with a one-out double, on a 1-2 pitch from Tobin Mateychick, that score Green for a 5-1 run lead.
WSU scored its run in the sixth after Tanner Dearman’s one-out triple. Garrett Bayliff drove him in with a single. Gillaspie homered in the ninth inning, his eighth of the season.
Worth noting — Former WSU All-American infielder Chris Wimmer, now a scout for Detroit, got a nice hand after he barehanded a foul ball that soared over the netting behind home plate. Wimmer gave the ball to a youngster and later autographed it.… Gillaspie matched his home run total from his freshman season. The blast to left-center was his first homer since March 22 at Hawaii.… Stephenson said infielder Cody Bobbit will get the cast off his right hand on Wednesday. Stephenson is unsure if Bobbit, who started 20 games at second base and shortstop before injuring the hand against Kansas State on April 16, will be able to play this season.… WSU went 0-6 against the Big 12 this season, losing twice to Kansas, Kansas State and OSU.… Higgins appeared to double in the fifth. He missed first base and was called out after WSU appealed.
|G. Green c||5||2||1||0||0||2||.305|
|R. McCurry ss||1||1||1||2||1||0||.313|
|M. Green lf||2||0||0||0||0||2||.287|
E — Gillaspie, Parker. DP — OSU. LOB — OSU 8, WSU 5. 2B — R. McCurry (17), Saxon (7), Cornell (6), Higgins (8). 3B — Dearman (1). HR — Gillaspie (8). S — Walton, Cornell. SF — Walton. SB — Cornell 2 (10), Higgins (8), Bayliff (9). CS — McConaughy, Bayliff 2.
|Bevacqua W,2-2||6 1/3||6||1||1||1||7||6.41|
HBP — G. Green (by Gardner). Balk — Mateychick. Umpires — Doug McClure, home; Greg Mudd, first; Bob Homolka, second; Terry Harrison, third. T — 3:04. A — 3,498.