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Wichita State takes hot streak to Kauffman

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, April 21, 2014, at 6:33 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, April 22, 2014, at 6:12 a.m.

Wichita State vs. Missouri

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City

Records: WSU 21-18, MU 17-21

Pitchers: WSU, LH Kris Gardner (1-2, 6.35 ERA); MU, RH Alec Rash (0-0, 0.90 ERA)

Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM

TV: Cox 22

Wichita State vs. Missouri

•  Tuesday’s game is a benefit for the College Baseball Hall of Fame, located in Lubbock, Texas. Tickets range from $5-$25 and can be purchased at the stadium or through the Kansas City Royals at (800) 676-9257.

•  WSU leads the series 6-4 and won the last meeting, 3-0 in the 2004 NCAA regional at Arkansas. In recent years, Missouri regularly played Kansas at Kauffman Stadium before the Tigers joined the SEC. On Wednesday, Missouri plays Illinois at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium.

•  The Tigers have lost four in a row, a skid that started with a 9-0 loss at Missouri State a week ago. Mississippi State swept the Tigers in Columbia over the weekend, winning two 11-inning games. Missouri ranks 13th in the 14-team SEC with a .260 batting average. Its seven home runs are tied for last, as are its 29 stolen bases.

•  Missouri is 1-2 against Missouri Valley Conference teams, losing to Southern Illinois and splitting with Missouri State.

•  C Dylan Kelly leads the Tigers with a .333 batting average and 19 RBI. DH Eric Anderson has three home runs and leads the team with a .484 slugging percentage. Sophomore P Alec Rash will start his first game and has thrown 10 innings, striking out 10 and walking four. He started seven games in 2013 and went 2-1 with a 4.55 ERA before an elbow injury ended his season. Philadelphia drafted him in the second round of the 2012 draft out of high school in Iowa.

•  WSU LF Daniel Kihle was named Missouri Valley Conference player of the week. He went 11 for 18 (.611) in four games last week with a home run and three doubles. Kihle, a sophomore, is hitting .405 and leads the MVC after reaching the minimum number of at-bats over the weekend. 1B Casey Gillaspie is second at .401.

Wichita State’s Micah Green warmed up at Denver’s Coors Field during high school before an all-star game. Then a tornado warning canceled the game.

So close to playing on a major league field.

Just taking batting practice gave him a taste and he is one of many Shockers excited about Tuesday’s game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.. While college baseball features many nice ballparks, there is nothing like a chance to play on the world’s best baseball fields, this one home to the Kansas City Royals.

“It will be the only time that most guys get to play in a big-league stadium,” Green said. “It’s amazing. When you step on one of those fields, it’s like playing on a golf course. The field, it just seems perfect.”

Wichita State (21-18) takes a season-best five-game win streak to Kauffman Stadium to face Missouri (17-21). It is the start of a four-game road trip that takes the Shockers from Kansas City to New Orleans, via airplane on Wednesday, for a weekend series against Tulane.

Count coach Todd Butler among those excited to play in front of the fountains. He hopes to run into Royals general manager Dayton Moore, a friend since they crossed paths during Moore’s time with the Atlanta Braves and Butler’s as an assistant at Alabama.

“It’s a fun time for our players,” Butler said. “We’ve had a good week and hopefully we can carry that forward.”

Lefty Kris Gardner earned the start with three solid innings against Oral Roberts a week ago in WSU’s 6-5 win at Eck Stadium. He allowed two hits and one run and has a 2.50 ERA in his past three appearances over 7 2/3 innings. Butler would like to get at least four innings out of Gardner and would also like to get other pitchers a chance to throw on the Kauffman Stadium mound.

Gardner, a junior, gave WSU its best mid-week start in several weeks against ORU. He bounced back from several rough outings in late March and his April numbers are improved.

“The ball is coming out of his hand well,” Butler said. “He had to get through that tough period he was going through and he overcame that. I would like to see him go deeper into the games.”

Gardner started at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series, against Creighton earlier in his career and remembers that experience fondly.

“It’s kind of a similar setting,” he said. “At the same time, before the game, you don’t want to make too much of it and get worked up about throwing in a big-league park. It’s still the same thing, same dimensions.”

Once the Shockers get past the thrill of their surroundings, extending the winning streak is paramount. Last season’s team didn’t put together a five-game win streak until the MVC Tournament. The Shockers haven’t won more than five in a row since the 2011 team won seven straight near the end of the season.

The five-game streak started at Evansville, ending an eight-game losing streak, and continued with four home wins. The Shockers rested, practiced and played in front of friendly fans.

“We’re playing with a lot more confidence,” right fielder Garrett Bayliff said. “That eight-game stretch, our confidence was pretty shot. We got off the bus and we’ve been able to work with the coaches more. We’re getting back to the basics and getting our routines in order.”

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

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