NORMAL, Ill. — Wichita State’s bullpen provided the team’s most consistent performance and the relievers received the rewards on Monday.
Closer Brandon Peterson earned Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year honors. Relievers Aaron LaBrie and Albert Minnis received honorable mention All-MVC.
Peterson, a junior from Savage, Minn., joined catcher-third baseman Tyler Baker on the All-MVC team. Peterson, WSU’s first Newcomer of the Year since designated hitter Preston Springer in 2010, led the MVC with nine saves, six in conference games. He compiled a 1.24 ERA, striking out 36 in 36 1/3 innings. Baker, named as a utility player, hit 324 with a team-leading 41 RBI. He committed one error in 57 games.
Right fielder Garrett Bayliff, who hit .382 in MVC games, first baseman Casey Gillaspie and pitcher Cale Elam were named second-team All-MVC. Shortstop Erik Harbutz received honorable mention.
Gillaspie and Bayliff were named to the All-Defensive team.
Bayliff’s omission from the first team bothered WSU coach Gene Stephenson. Bayliff, a junior, leads the Shockers with a .381 batting average and his on-base percentage of .435 ranks second. In MVC games, his batting average ranked third behind Bradley outfielder Mike Tauchman (.462) and Indiana State third baseman Koby Kraemer (389).
“I think it’s a terrible injustice,” Stephenson said.
Tauchman was named Joe Carter Player of the Year after hitting .427 with 28 steals. Illinois State’s Chris Razo earned Pitcher of the Year honors with his 7-1 record and a 1.65 ERA. He pitched five complete games. Missouri State’s Tate Matheny, who hit .342, was named Freshman of the Year. Illinois State shortstop Brett Kay was named Defensive Player of the Year.
Illinois State coach Mark Kingston was named Coach of the Year.
Hip check — Indiana State pitcher Sean Manaea entered the season as a perhaps the nation’s most watched pitcher. He earned Cape Cod League honors as the top pitcher and the top pro prospect last summer, which normally stamps a player as an early first-round draft pick.
A strained hip, however, pushed his season off course and only recently is throwing as well as expected. The hip problems started in March, after a start at Minnesota. He was scheduled to miss a start in late April, one rained out. When he returned, coach Rick Heller limited his innings.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Heller said. “He’s toughed it out for us and did the best he could. Seeing him have to go out and fight through some injuries is frustrating.”
Manaea, a 6-foot-5 junior lefty, struck out five in five innings in Thursday’s win over Bradley. In his previous outing, he struck out 11 in seven innings against Alcorn State.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” he said. “I’m getting closer, but I’m not 100 percent yet.”
Indiana State’s pitching depth took a permanent hit earlier this month when it lost starter Daniel Peterson, a junior from Lenexa, to an elbow injury.
On the defensive — In Wichita State’s bracket, the sixth-seeded Sycamores open against third-seeded Creighton.
That means working on bunt defense, which is how the Sycamores started Monday’s one-hour practice. Creighton leads the MVC with 76 sacrifice bunts. When the Bluejays get a leadoff runner on, they are bunting. It’s not unheard for them to bunt with one out.
Teams that can defend the bunt and get the routine out can limit the Bluejays. Teams that can’t open the door to big innings.
“The short game is what they do,” Indiana State third baseman Koby Kraemer said. “We really want to focus on defending that and executing to get outs.”
Batter back — Creighton centerfielder Mike Gerber will play this week and his return could boost the offense.
He last played on April 21, five days before he underwent an appendectomy. Doctors cleared Gerber on Friday, but he did not play in last week’s series against Missour State. He returned to practice on Sunday.
“We can’t wait any longer,” Creighton coach Ed Servais said. “It’s time. We’ll keep a close eye on him.”
Gerber, a junior who hits fourth, is batting .328 with five doubles, six triples and four home runs. He missed 15 games and his 28 RBI rank second on the team.
New day for Aces — Fifth-seeded Evansville will change its rotation to face fourth-seeded Missouri State.
Senior Kyle Lloyd, the Saturday starter, goes in Tuesday’s opener. he beat the Bears 2-1 during the regular season, limiting them to five hits and striking out 12 at home. He is 7-3 with a 2.74 ERA on the season.
He hops over sophomore Kyle Freeland, who gave up seven hits and seven runs in 2 2/3 innings against Missouri State, a game the Aces lost 9-5.
Worth noting — The top two seeds have won 24 tournaments since 1981, with the top seed claiming 15. The lowest seed to win it is No. 8, which Creighton did last season at Hammons Field. The Bluejays won the 2011 title as the No. 1 seed and will try to become the only school other than Wichita State to win three straight. The Shockers won three (or more) in a row three times, most recently from 2002-05. . .The first 14 tournament games are availble on espn3.com. Saturday’s championship is on Fox Sports Kansas City. . .Indiana State plays in the 9 a.m. game to start the tournament for the third time in four years.