NORMAL, Ill. — Shutout Thursday kept Wichita State alive in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
The second-seeded Shockers defeated sixth-seeded Indiana State 5-0 in Thursday afternoon’s game to set up a rematch at 12:30 p.m Friday. The winner advances to Saturday’s championship game. WSU run-ruled seventh-seeded Southern Illinois 15-0 in seven innings in Thursday morning’s game.
WSU starter Kris Gardner held Indiana State to seven hits and didn’t walk a batter in a masterpiece of efficiency. He struck out three and needed a mere 99 pitches to roll through 32 hitters. Freshman Garrett Brummett struck out a career-high seven and scattered three hits in five innings against SIU.
Tyler Baker caught all 16 scoreless innings — plus three to wrap up Wednesday’s 11-4 win over Creighton. Three games. Two complete games. Nineteen scoreless innings. That’s pitching depth.
“It’s awesome — guys are hitting their spots and doing their jobs,” Baker said. “That’s Kris Gardner from last year. That’s the dude.”
The dude from 2012, when Gardner took over a weekend spot in late April and earned Freshman All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball. He struggled through much of this season and lost his spot in the weekend rotation. He looked sharp in three straight mid-week starts and gave WSU (37-26) exactly what it needed on Thursday with his first complete game. WSU coach Gene Stephenson approaches Friday with a rested bullpen, thanks to Gardner.
Gardner watched A.J. Ladwig throw a complete game Wednesday and watched Brummett’s shutdown early Thursday. Joining in seemed mandatory.
“We’re pretty competitive within the staff, so we’re definitely trying to one-up each other in a good sort of way," he said. "I had all three pitches working. I wasn’t throwing anything out of the norm."
Gardner escaped jams in the first three innings, stranding a runner at third in each. Then he cruised, rarely letting the Sycamores (26-24) mount a threat. He sat them down in order in the fourth and worked around a one-out single in the fifth. In the sixth, he caught Robby Ort as he broke for second and shortstop Dayne Parker tagged him out at second.
“He kept them off-balance pretty much all day,” Stephenson said. “He’s got his confidence back, that’s the most important thing.”
The Sycamores, trailing 4-0, elected to play small ball in the seventh. Connor McClain bunted Koby Kraemer to second after Kraemer bunted his way on. Gardner ended that rally with by striking out Jacob Hayes on a ball in the dirt and inducing a fly ball by Jordan Pearson. The Sycamores went down in order in the eighth and ninth. The Sycamores rarely got the barrel on the ball, most often settling for lazy fly balls that outfielders gobbled up.
“That was a winnable game tonight if we go out and do a good job offensively,” Sycamores coach Rick Heller said. “We had 15 or 16 fly ball outs. We didn’t make any adjustments. It was very, very frustrating to watch.”
From his dugout. From Baker’s spot, quite nice.
“He’s confident throwing inside — we actually threw inside quite a bit,” Baker said. “He’s got confidence now. He was leaving his fastball up. Not any more. He’s living low.”
The Shockers took a 2-0 lead in the sixth, an inning that started with Baker lofting a double that land a foot or two fair down the left-field line. Casey Gillaspie moved him to third and he scored on Johnny Coy’s sacrifice fly to right. Mikel Mucha’s two-out single to center scored Gillaspie.
In the seventh, Baker doubled to left-center with two outs and Bayliff, running with the pitch, scored from first easily. Gillaspie’s double scored Baker for a 4-0 lead.
That timely hitting erased plenty of frustrations against Greg Kuhlman early. WSU stranded five runners in the first four innings, four in scoring position. Sycamores shortstop Tyler Wampler saved a run in the first by making a diving stop on a ball hit up the middle and throwing out Gillaspie. In the fourth, Kuhlman struck out Bayliff looking with a runner at third and got Gillaspie swinging with the bases loaded to end the inning.
WSU 15, SIU 0 —SIU started the tournament Tuesday with a 5-1 win over WSU. Without Cody Forsythe on the mound, the Shockers battered the Salukis for 15 hits in seven innings.
WSU batted around in the fourth inning, scoring four runs, and in the fifth, scoring six. SIU (25-33) tied a season-high by walking 10 batters.
Brummett gave the Shockers a bullpen-saving performance and continued his impressive run as a starter. He made his sixth start, and has allowed one run in 31 innings.
Mucha hit his first home run, banging it off the bottom corner of the scoreboard, to drive in three runs and give WSU a 5-0 lead in the fourth.
Mucha, who doubled in a run in the seventh, went 3 for 4 and drove in four runs. Bayliff went 3 for 4 and drove in three runs. Coy went 2 for 3 and drove in three runs.
Rain delayed the game for 11 minutes in the fourth inning.