NORMAL, Ill. — Wichita State’s NCAA regional drought has stretched on long enough that no one on the roster has played in one.
The Shockers look determined to change that with a week full of lockdown pitching, timely hitting and solid defense. Second-seeded WSU advanced to the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament with a 5-4 win over sixth-seeded Indiana State on Friday at Bass Field.
That gets the Shockers (38-26) one win away from a regional. That win, however, presents the biggest challenge of the week. WSU plays top-seeded Illinois State at 7 p.m. Saturday for the tournament title.
“We need one more,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said.
The Redbirds cruised through their bracket without a loss and rested and practiced on Friday. The Shockers exhausted more pitching, going through their top four healthy relievers to beat the Sycamores (26-25). Cale Elam, who threw 79 pitches over four innings on Tuesday, will start Saturday. Shoulder stiffness kept reliever T.J. McGreevy out Friday and Stephenson is unsure if he will be available.
“We have Cale Elam, and I’m not sure what we have after that,” Stephenson said.
WSU is in the title game for the sixth time in the past seven years. It last won in 2009, also the last time it played in a regional. In 2010, Illinois State defeated WSU 17-8 at Eck Stadium.
The Shockers haven’t committed an error in five tournament games. They are hitting .361 with three home runs and the pitchers strung together a streak of 24 straight scoreless innings.
“Keep the same mindset and try to get ahead early,” WSU center fielder Micah Green said.
The Shockers trailed briefly on Friday, down 2-0 in the sixth inning. Indiana State’s lead didn’t last long.
WSU scored five runs in the sixth on four hits and two walks. Garrett Bayliff drove in two runs with a single to right, tying the game 2-all. Green, with the bases loaded and two outs, singled to drive in two more. Mikel Mucha gave WSU a 5-2 lead with his single to right.
The game turned on Green’s at-bat. Indiana State walked Johnny Coy, loading the bases, to face Green.
“The guys were saying ‘You better get mad,’ ” Green said. “I was like ‘All right.’ ”
On the first pitch from Kurt Kudrecki, he smacked a curveball up the middle and off the glove of Tyler Wampler, a vacuum at shortstop who came up just short on a dive.
“I just had enough zip on it,” Green said.
That inning provided just enough offense for WSU, which held Indiana State to seven hits and stranded 12 Sycamore runners, seven in scoring position. WSU pitchers hit five batters and two scored. Albert Minnis, starting his first game in more than a year, held the Sycamores to three hits and two runs in five innings.
“Yes, he hit some people and, yes, he walked some people,” Stephenson said. “But he pitched himself out of some really tough jams.”
Closer Brandon Peterson gave up two hits in 2 2/3 scoreless innings to record his 10th save. He ended Indiana State’s two-run rally in the seventh, striking out Casey McCurdy with two runners on. Protecting a 5-4 lead, he hit Wampler to start the eighth. A sacrifice bunt moved him to second and a passed ball got him to third with one out. With the infield in, Peterson threw a slider to Derek Hannahs, who lunged at the two-strike pitch and lined out softly to second baseman Tanner Dearman. Another slider got Robby Ort to pop up to Dearman.
“(Ort) is their best hitter,” Peterson said. “He was sitting fastball, and we wanted to get him out on his front foot (with a slider).”
Indiana State took a 2-0 lead in the sixth when wildness caught up to Minnis. He hit Robby Ort to start the inning. Koby Kraemer’s single ended Minnis’ day. Connor McClain drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and Jordan Pearson’s single scored Kraemer for a 2-0 lead.
Ort homered off Foster Vielock in the seventh to cut WSU’s lead to 5-3. Kraemer, hit in the hand while checking his swing, got to first base. A walk moved him to second and he scored on Jacob Hayes’ single.
LOB — Indiana State 12, WSU 5. 2B — Fitzgerald (12). HR — Ort (5). S — Curry, Hannahs, Conway. SF — McClain. CS — Harbutz.
|Peterson S,10||2 2/3||2||0||0||1||1||1.15|
WP — Pazik, Minnis, LaBrie. HBP — Ort 2, McClain (by Minnis); Kraemer (by Vielock); Wampler (by Peterson). PB — Baker. Umpires — Wayne Harris, home; Bret Bruington, first; Tim Catton, second; Jason Stidham, third. T — 3:05. A — 356