Tanner Dearman’s second game-ending hit for Wichita State came as a result of paying attention.
Dearman, whose single drove in the winning run in WSU’s 4-3, 10-inning victory over Bradley Friday night at Eck Stadium, noticed some familiar circumstances.
“I knew it was kind of like the Cal State-Fullerton game again,” Dearman said. “The guy (batting) in front of me got walked, the guy started off the inning with a double. I just looked for the pitch I wanted.”
Dearman also recognized the tendencies of Bradley pitcher Matt Dennis, who gave Dearman the pitch he wanted to start off the at-bat. Only Dennis didn’t know it was the one Dearman, the Shockers’ designated hitter, was looking for.
Dearman took a first-pitch fastball on the inside half of home plate for a strike. Dennis may have thought he exposed a weakness, but Dearman was kicking himself for not swinging.
Dennis threw a similar pitch on an 0-1 count, and Dearman lined it to right to score Tyler Baker, whose leadoff double started the rally. Zair Koeiman was hit prior to Dearman’s at-bat, a slight difference to the game-winning single the Shockers’ sophomore delivered on March 29 against Fullerton.
“They’d been throwing me off-speed and I just missed a couple innings before,” Dearman said. “They hadn’t doubled me up with fastballs all night, so they had to sooner or later, and they did.”
WSU surrendered a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth, preventing ace A.J. Ladwig from improving his 3-5 record even as he maintained a stellar 1.16 ERA. Aaron LaBrie issued a leadoff walk and allowed a tying single on a 1-2 pitch to Evan Gruener.
That was Bradley’s contribution to the tally of late-inning productive at-bats, and WSU had a couple more than the Braves.
The Shockers put Ladwig in line for a win in the bottom of the eighth when Koeiman, after falling behind 1-2, fouled off five straight pitches against soft-tossing left-hander David Koll. Koeiman eventually found the correct timing against Koll and delivered a go-ahead sacrifice fly.
WSU’s eighth inning started when Chase Simpson, who scored on Koeiman’s out, worked an eight-pitch walk after the first two pitches to him were strikes.
“Right now we’re just trying to win ballgames,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “Right now, it’s a battle.”
It has often been a battle for Ladwig to notch personal victories even with a microscopic ERA.
Butler said Ladwig wasn’t at his best Friday, but the strength in Ladwig’s outing was in recognizing that. His fastball was occasionally flat, so he threw off-speed and breaking balls early in counts to get ahead.
Once that happened, he tested the limits of the strike zone and forced Bradley to swing at pitches more tailored to Ladwig’s mission than that of the Braves. He had two strikeouts and allowed eight hits in eight innings, but three of those didn’t leave the infield and he never went to a three-ball count.
“I didn’t have my fastball tonight,” Ladwig said. “I just tried to get ahead of hitters and it worked out for the better. After that first strike, we try to expand the zone a little bit and make them chase, and I think they did for the most part.”
Bradley’s ninth-inning run prevented Ladwig from earning a win and necessitated a clutch hit by the Shockers, which had proven a difficult task.
The Shockers hit one-out doubles in the second, third, and sixth innings and didn’t advance any of those runners to third. They left the bases loaded in the second and couldn’t manage more than one run after loading them again in the 8th.
“We left a lot of runners on in scoring position,” Dearman said. “We just couldn’t get a timely hit to score them. If we would have gotten a timely hit once or twice, the game would have been completely different.”
In the 10th, Micah Green popped up an attempted sacrifice bunt and Dayne Parker recorded a first-pitch flyout. But WSU’s productive at-bats won out as Dearman rewarded his own attentiveness.