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Gardner bright spot in Wichita State’s 3-0 loss to No. 18 OSU

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, April 30, 2014, at 10:59 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, May 1, 2014, at 6:02 a.m.

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Wichita State coach Todd Butler brought out the radar gun at practice about a month ago in an attempt to push his pitchers. Coaches often prefer their pitchers avoid thinking about those red numbers on the gun. Butler wanted to see his prove they could throw hard.

“He challenged all the pitchers — I don’t think it was necessarily about what he saw on the radar gun — it was more to get up there and throw it like you mean it,” lefty Kris Gardner said.

That afternoon served as something of a turning point for Gardner, who since has nailed down WSU’s job as midweek starter. His five solid innings gave Butler something positive after an otherwise depressing 3-0 loss to No. 18 Oklahoma State on Wednesday in front of 2,982 cold fans, most wrapped in blankets, at Eck Stadium.

The Shockers (22-23) lost for the fifth time in six games and split the season series with OSU (32-13).

Gardner threw 89 pitches and struck out a career-high seven batters and Butler is pleased with progress over the past month, which includes six appearances and three starts. In those 17 innings, Gardner compiled a 2.65 ERA and Butler can see him as a fourth starter, should the Shockers need one in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.

“He started throwing the ball, instead of trying to finesse the ball over the plate,” Butler said. “He started throwing the ball harder.”

Gardner, a junior, depends on control and luring batters into weak swings. He is throwing his curveball with more velocity, which helped him run up his strikeout mark on Wednesday. He struck out two in the first inning and stranded a runner at second by getting Conor Costello with a fastball up in the fifth.

“I was getting them to chase pitches out of the zone,” Gardner said.

The Cowboys got to Gardner in the fourth with Tim Arakawa’s two-out double, on an 0-1 fastball, driving in Zach Fish and Aaron Cornell. Fish singled to start the inning and Cornell with one out, both poking singles to right, just out of the reach of WSU second baseman Zair Koeiman.

“My first at-bat wasn’t one I was too proud of,” Arakawa said. “I just wanted to shorten up, simplify things, see the ball up and hit the ball hard somewhere.”

Aaron Cornell’s sacrifice fly gave the Cowboys a 3-0 in the ninth.

WSU’s offense generated little other than frustration with poor at-bats and poor decisions in critical moments. Cowboys starter Tyler Nurdin walked four and gave up three hits in five innings, but the Shockers failed to string together hits. Garrett Williams struck out six in four innings, overpowering most of the WSU hitters.

In the fourth, Dayne Parker’s double put Micah Green at third with one out. Nurdin struck out Koeiman, who watched a breaking pitch go by, and Tanner Dearman to escape with no damage.

In the eighth, Koeiman stroked a one-out double, on the ground, to center field. He beat a throw from shortstop Donnie Walton, after a dive, to get to third and Tanner Dearman at first. With one out, speedy Dearman at first and the top of the order up, something good looked possible.

Then a ball bounced briefly away from catcher Gage Green and Dearman tried to get to second. Green threw him out easily. Daniel Kihle struck out to end the inning.

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

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