Contributions from a couple newcomers aside, the Todd Butler era of Wichita State baseball produced little away from the norm.
Same trademark “W” hat, same solid starting pitching, same guys getting the key hits.
Mainstays Garrett Bayliff and Casey Gillaspie combined for five RBIs and Cale Elam struck out seven over five innings in his second-straight opening-day start as the Shockers beat Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 6-1 in the season-opener Friday at Eck Stadium.
The routine may have looked a bit different, with the Shockers meeting behind first base after the game, a custom not practiced by former coach Gene Stephenson, but even that has become old hat for the Shockers in Butler’s first season as coach.
“We’ve been practicing and we kind of know what (the new coaches) are about,” Gillaspie said. “When we would have intrasquads they would like to talk to us, so there wasn’t much of a change there from what we’re used to. We’ve been practicing with them for five, six months.”
Elam took a no-decision, with left-handed reliever Aaron LaBrie earning the win, because the Shockers never figured out SIU-E starter Ryan Daniels.
If the game had been played in March of April, Daniels likely would have had a chance to continue his mastery of a WSU lineup revamped due to the suspensions of Tyler Baker, Dayne Parker and Erik Harbutz beyond his game-one pitch count.
Instead, Daniels came out after 63 pitches. He left after retiring the final 12 batters he faced to give way to a bullpen that contributed to a staff ERA of above 6.00 last year.
“I was sitting there for a while, six innings, wondering if we were going to get the offense going,” Butler said. “Their starting pitcher … did a very good throwing strikes, throwing a fastball early in the count and throwing it for a strike. He did a very good job of pitching and we didn’t do much off of him.”
The call to the SIU-E bullpen, then, was timed perfectly for the Shockers, who jumped on reliever Zach Malach. Two sixth-inning singles followed Garrett Bayliff’s one-out walk to tie the score 1-1, and Malach and the Cougars were no match for WSU’s station-to-station approach in the seventh.
Parker Zimmerman started WSU’s seventh with an infield single, moving up on a bunt hit by Tanner Kirk produced by a combination of Kirk’s speed and SIU-E’s failure to properly defend the play.
Mikel Mucha nearly beat out another bunt, settling instead for a sacrifice, and a run was plated following two hit batters, the second giving Bayliff the first of three RBIs. Gillaspie made it 4-1 with a single through the left side, scoring a pair.
“We were just kind of overanxious at the beginning of the game,” Bayliff said. “The first four or five innings, we were pulling off balls and trying to do a little bit too much. We finally kind of let the game come to us and settled in and started to hit the ball where it was pitched.”
Gillaspie singled during WSU’s sixth-inning rally before his two-run single, flashing a familiar comfort in clutch situations after tying for the team lead in RBIs with 46 in 2013.
“I’m getting older – it’s my third year here and you learn to control your emotions a little bit when those situations come up,” Gillaspie said. “The guys before me did a great job to get on base, and I was just fortunate to be in those situations.”
Elam was in-line for the loss after allowing a first-inning run and after the Shockers squandered a scoring chance in the fifth, which started with consecutive hits.
Elam threw 51 of 74 pitches for strikes and LaBrie continued that efficiency, getting through his three innings on 34 pitches before Ray Ashford recorded the final three outs to wrap up the first game of a new regime that doesn’t yet have a completely new look.
“We’ve got a lot of returners and we’re pretty mature,” Bayliff said. “The faces aren’t really changing. The head coach changed, the coaching staff changed, but as far as the lineup, we have a lot of returners. We’re comfortable playing together, and you kind of have that sense of the same style as last year.”
|C. Green 2b||4||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|M. Green cf||4||0||1||0||0||2||.250|
E — Simpson, Koeiman. DP — WSU 2. LOB — SIU 8, WSU 9. 2B — Caldwell (1), M. Green (1), Bayliff (1). S — Mucha. SB — Dearman (1). CS — C. Green.
|Malach L,0-1||1 1/3||5||4||4||1||0||27.7|
HBP — Geissinger (by Elam); Dearman, Bayliff (by Malach). Umpires — Phil Plantz, home; Larry Waggoner, first; Mike Lentz, third. T — 2:26. A — 2,537.