A.J. Ladwig was up to the challenge of facing the ace of a nationally-ranked team, but the rest of Wichita State’s pitchers were not.
Ladwig, WSU’s junior right-hander, hung with Cal State Fullerton starting pitcher Thomas Eshelman for seven innings.
The Shockers’ bullpen couldn’t keep it close, however, and the No. 9-ranked Titans won the weekend series opener 5-1 at Eck Stadium. Any momentum WSU earned by scoring upon Eshelman in the seventh was quickly erased by a bullpen that allowed three runs.
“The bullpen wasn’t very good tonight,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “…When you face a guy like Eshelman, one of the best pitchers in the country — his numbers are staggering — you’re going to get two or three innings of opportunity. But if you don’t score…”
WSU’s best chance to get to Eshelman before he settled in came in the first inning when he was still figuring out the best plan of attack against a WSU lineup that collectively combines patience and aggressiveness.
The Shockers seemed to zero in on selectivity as the best approach with the knowledge of Eshelman’s outstanding control. The only free pass he issued Friday was a hit batter that led to WSU’s only run.
Eshelman had to leave after the seventh inning and 117 pitches because he threw 37 in the first. No WSU batter in the inning faced fewer than six pitches, and Casey Gillaspie and Dayne Parker reached scoring position after hits that ended lengthy at-bats. WSU had 14 two-strike fouls the first time through the order.
Gillaspie and Parker, though, were stranded, and WSU never reached that level of patience again, mostly due to Eshelman’s excellence. He showed in the first that he would rather throw strikes in 3-1 or full counts rather than issue walks, but the Shockers could never fully capitalize.
“He’s always going to attack the (strike) zone,” WSU’s Tanner Kirk said. “He doesn’t have very many walks on the season, so you just have to be ready and get your pitch. He’s going to be right around the zone.”
Eshelman used deception to throw off the Shockers — his windup includes a pause before he turns his left shoulder toward home plate before an abrupt acceleration.
Ladwig though, was more straightforward in his ability to consistently throw strikes and rebound after a first inning that was more difficult than it should have been. He also entered long counts and had to face an extra batter after a two-out error.
Ladwig, though, wasn’t quite as sharp as Eshelman, allowing runs in the third and seventh innings before giving way to Aaron LaBrie, Ray Ashford and Reagan Biechler, who were unable to keep it at 2-1.
“Ladwig is an ace,” Butler said. “He matched up with their guy very good — Ladwig’s numbers are just as good as his. Ladwig is a Friday-night starter. He’s given us an opportunity to win every time he’s stepped on the mound. He’s had very little run support.”
WSU never had a runner on with fewer than two outs, but the Shockers finally scratched out a run against Eshelman in the seventh, though it was unearned. Kirk doubled home Wes Phillips, who came on after shortstop Erik Harbutz was injured in a collision with Kirk in shallow left field in the fourth.
Garrett Bayliff also left Friday’s game with an apparent injury, exiting after a groundout to end the fifth. Butler was unable to offer a prognosis on either Harbutz or Bayliff. The Shockers are already without injured outfielders Daniel Kihle and Mikel Mucha.
“I don’t think we’ve put a team on the field where we’ve had everyone, whether it’s suspensions or health issues,” Butler said. “We’ve got to keep grinding, keep fighting it. We’ve got two more games against Cal State Fullerton, and you can’t go pouting about it.”
E — Williamson, Parker. DP — WSU. LOB — Fullerton 9, WSU 6. 2B — Davis (4), Velazquez (3), Parker (3). S — Richards. SB — Diemer (4), Davis (4). CS — Dale.
|Guana S,3||1 1/3||0||0||0||0||2||1.70|
WP — Ashford. PB — . HBP — Williamson (by Biechler), Phillips (by Eshelman). Umpires — home, Greg Mudd; first, Trent Petrie; third, Ben Harlow. T — 3:14. A — 2,919.