NORMAL, Ill. — Wichita State’s Sam Tewes departed Bass Field lugging his gear, a rolling bag full of athletic training equipment and one full of batting helmets.
Life as a freshman, even for the winning pitcher. At home, he works on the mound after games. On the road, he’s the baggage man.
“You’ve just got to do it,” he said while laughing.
Tewes threw six strong innings in Friday’s 2-1 win over Illinois State to help the Shockers nail down their first series on the road this season. WSU (28-26, 12-8 MVC) guaranteed itself no worse than fourth place in the MVC with Tewes and Cale Elam combining to hold the Redbirds (30-20, 10-10) to five hits. WSU coach Todd Butler was ejected in the third inning, after a discussion with the umpires following a check-swing by first baseman Casey Gillaspie that was ruled a strike.
Tewes struck out five and walked one to continue his progress from a pitcher who routinely worked ahead and struggled to finish off batters to one who can use his slider for strikeouts. He has 22 strikeouts and five walks in his past four starts. In his first 10, he struck out 25 and walked 21.
Most of that bite can be attributed to his slider, which is much sharper and harder than earlier in the season.
“It looks a lot more like my fastball, with fastball arm speed,” Tewes said. “Honestly, it’s just believing in the pitch and throwing it with confidence.”
Pitching coach Brent Kemnitz offered more technical reasons for the upgrade. Tewes is on top of the ball and throwing down more consistently. He is more successful moving the ball around to keep a hitter guessing or tempt him with a ball in the dirt.
“He had a breaking ball that was more of a curve or a slurve and it wasn’t hard enough,” Kemnitz said. “We went to more of a slider and when he’s got fastball arm speed, it’s a strikeout pitch.”
Illinois State took a 1-0 lead with two two-out hits and a walk in the second inning. Mason Snyder dropped a double into the right-field gap to start the threat. He scored on Dennis Colon’s single. Tewes got first strikes against Snyder, Joe Kelch, who walked, and Colon. He continued to work right around the strike zone, but didn’t get rewarded by home-plate umpire Rick Allen.
The frustrating inning didn’t shake his composure. After giving up a one-out single in the fourth, he struck out the next two batters. In the fifth, he stranded two runners with two easy flyballs.
“You can’t show up the umpire, because if you don’t get any calls there, you’re definitely not going to get them if you keep showing him up,” WSU catcher Tyler Baker said. “Our pitchers are pretty good about that this year. In the past, they’ve showed a little emotion, but this year they’ve calmed down.”
The success of Tewes and Elam continued a frustrating collapse for Illinois State, which started May with a chance to win the MVC and build a good NCAA at-large resume. Instead, the Redbirds lost their fifth straight game and eighth in the past nine. They are locked into fifth place and will face WSU on Tuesday in the MVC Tournament opener.
Illinois State coach Mark Kingston is setting up his pitching, as is WSU, for Tuesday. On offense, he is searching for somebody, anybody, who can hit.
“Our lineup, we’re trying to find answers,” he said. “That has nothing to do with Tuesday.”
WSU took the lead in the fifth by accepting help from Redbirds reliever Will Headean. He walked Tanner Dearman to start the innning. With one out, Erik Harbutz singled and Gillaspie walked to loaded the bases. Dayne Parker pushed a bunt past Headean and beat the throw to first, scoring Dearman. With two outs, a wild pitch scored Gillaspie from third for a 2-1 lead.
That was all WSU needed to win the series. A weekend that didn’t mean much as far as seeding or conference finish is going well for the Shockers. WSU, as expected, is locked into the No. 4 seed, although it can tie Dallas Baptist for third with a win and a loss by the Patriots on Saturday. Dallas Baptist holds the tiebreaker by virtue of a series win over WSU.
“Everybody is staying positive,” Baker said. “You’re out here to play baseball and have fun.”