Wichita State needed one like this. In fact, it could use two more feel-good games to prepare for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
The Shockers defeated Northwestern 8-2 on Thursday at Eck Stadium to start a three-game non-conference series. They remained in second place in the Missouri Valley Conference when first-place Illinois State defeated Southern Illinois 4-3 to open that series. SIU must win at least one game to help WSU clinch a share of the title.
WSU (32-25) can’t control those games. It can work on adjusting to the off-speed pitches that frustrated hitters against Creighton and Oklahoma State in recent games. The Shockers looked like a savvy hitting team against Northwestern (22-24) by knocking out 15 hits and consistently taking the ball up the middle and to the opposite field. They roughed up Wildcats ace Luke Farrell, who entered the game with a 1.84 ERA, for nine hits and four runs in six innings.
The book on WSU is to throw breaking pitches and changeups and watch them take off-balance, impatient swings and get themselves out. The Shockers, on Thursday, displayed more willingness to wait on a pitch and settle for a simple base hit. It helped that Northwestern’s infielders don’t cover the same amount of turf as Creighton’s do. The Shockers poked a lot of singles past Wildcat infielders.
“We had a long talk (Wednesday) about approaches and hitters and everybody was getting feedback,” WSU’s Micah Green said. “The main thing was trying to take it the other way and staying back. A lot of times we get out on our front foot, the whole team, and we’re not successful hitting off-speed pitches.”
Green homered and went 3 for 4, singling twice up the middle. Garrett Bayliff went 4 for 5 and drove in three runs. He singled twice up the middle. Tanner Dearman went 3 for 5 and scored twice, reaching with a bunt in the first inning.
“The scouting report is out there that they want to try to throw a lot of changeups, a lot of fastball look-alikes,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. “We did a better job. Some guys adjusted really well. We’ll have to see how the guy (Friday) pitches us and if we can adjust.”
WSU’s pitchers gave the offense plenty of time to get revved up. Starter Cale Elam threw five innings and allowed both runs. Reliever Albert Minnis dominated in his three innings, allowing no hits and striking out three.
WSU retook the lead 3-2 with a run in the fourth. With Mikel Mucha at third, Parker Zimmerman bunted toward first. Farrell fielded near the foul line, wheeled and threw wildly home, past catcher Scott Heelan and to the padded backstop. Mucha, who got on with a one-out single, scored to give the Shockers the lead for good. Green’s second home run of the season made it 5-2 in the seventh.
The Shockers strung together a two-out walk and four hits to break the game open in the eighth. Green drove in his second run of the game with a single to score Erik Harbutz. Bayliff came up with the inning’s big hit, a two-run single to left that made it 8-2.
“We want to get our morale up and go into the tournament with our heads held high,” Green said. “This is a chance to fine tune some things. We’ve been kind of wishy-washy, inconsistent, with the winning.”
Worth noting — WSU wore red, white and blue jerseys for military night. The jerseys were auctioned off with proceeds benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project. Pre-game ceremonies included veterans on motorcycles ringing the warning track before the game. Players held United States flags during the Star-Spangled Banner.… Green took over in center for Taylor Doggett, who hurt his arm during infield and was scheduled to see a doctor after the game, Stephenson said.… The Shockers homered in back-to-back games for the first time since April 6-7 against Indiana State.… The MVC Tournament continued to take shape with the bottom seeds decided. Evansville is the No. 5 seed, followed by No. 6 Indiana State, No. 7 Southern Illinois and No. 8 Bradley. WSU or Illinois State will take the top two seeds. Creighton and Missouri State are playing to decide the third and fourth seeds.
E — . DP — Northwestern, WSU. LOB — Northwestern 4, WSU 7. 2B — Jones (16). HR — Green (2). S — Zimmerman. SB — Dearman (8), Bayliff (10). SF — Baker. CS — Harbutz.
WP — Elam. Heelan (by Elam). Umpires — Bob Homolka, home; John Knight, first; Doug McClure, third.. T — 2:13. A — 3,038.