Wichita State owed pitcher A.J. Ladwig a day like this.
It came at the perfect time, an offensive outburst to prolong the season and save the Shockers the embarrassment of bowing out of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament without a win. WSU eliminated top-seeded Evansville 8-6 on Wednesday at Warn Field on Dayne Parker’s two-run home run in the ninth inning.
“There’s been numerous times this year it’s been the other way around, when we don’t pick him up,” Parker said. “I gave him a big hug. That feels good, knowing we picked him up.”
The fourth-seeded Shockers (30-27) will play at 8 a.m. Thursday, needing to win twice to stay alive. Evansville (34-21) went winless in the tournament and likely ruined its NCAA regional at-large chances.
The Shockers handed Ladwig leads of 1-0, 3-2 and 6-4, out-of-character cushions for the junior right-hander. He entered the game with a 1.11 ERA, third in the nation, and used to pitching with no room for error. WSU scored two or fewer runs in nine of Ladwig’s 14 previous starts, twice getting shut out.
Ladwig gave up a season-high six earned runs, four coming on two two-run home runs with two outs. He allowed eight hits, struck out four and walked three. Those are similar numbers to an April loss to Evanville in which Ladwig gave up three earned runs, his previous high, on eight hits and two walks.
“I missed a couple spots and it cost me,” he said. “They were attacking early and looking for that fastball.”
On Wednesday, Ladwig could afford to give up a few runs. Chase Simpson and Parker took advantage of ideal hitting conditions on an 80-degree morning. Simpson went 4 for 5 with three RBIs and made the Aces pay for pitching around first baseman Casey Gillaspie. He doubled and scored to lead off the second. In the fourth, he tripled to score Gillaspie, who walked. In the seventh, he doubled in two runs after an intentional walk to Gillaspie.
“With the talented lineup Wichita State has, it definitely alters how you pitch throughout their lineup,” Evansville coach Wes Carroll said. “Chase Simpson stepped up and was really dialed in for them.”
Simpson, a junior third baseman, is used to that treatment. He hits behind Gillaspie, who has walked 56 times, 15 on intentional walks. Teams almost always pitch Gillaspie carefully and prefer to test Simpson.
“He had very good at-bats and showed some toughness,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “He really carried us. It’s tough to hit behind Gillaspie. That’s pressure.”
Simpson bounced back from an 0-for-4 day in Tuesday’s 6-0 loss to fifth-seeded Illinois State.
“Yesterday, I was late a lot and today I started earlier in got more sync with the pitcher,” he said. “I know they’re going to pitch around him and that just gives me the opportunity to come up big.”
Parker, who went 3 for 5 with three RBIs, made Simpson’s good work stand up with his home run in the ninth. Garrett Bayliff started the inning with a single. Butler briefly considered bunting, but knew the Aces would walk Gillaspie. He let Parker swing.
Parker turned on a 2-1 pitch and smacked it over the left-field wall to give WSU its 8-6 lead.
“I was sitting fastball, in, pretty much the whole at-bat,” he said. “They were throwing me fastballs all day.”
The earlier innings belonged to Simpson, who raised his average to .266 with 40 RBIs.
He doubled to left field to lead off the second and scored on Daniel Kihle’s single. In the fourth, Simpson hammered a ball off the wall in left to score Gillaspie from first. The ball rolled away from the outfielders and Simpson slid into third with a triple.
After a pop-up, Kihle pushed a squeeze bunt to the pitcher while Simpson broke from the third. Aces starter Cole Isom fielded the ball and moved to throw home before wheeling to get Kihle at first. Simpson scored to give WSU a 3-2 lead.
In the seventh, Simpson drove in two more runs, for a 6-4 lead, with a two-out double. Erik Harbutz started the inning with a single and Tanner Kirk bunted him to second. Tanner Dearman walked after fouling off two 3-2 pitches. With two outs, Parker singled to left to score Harbutz and cut Evansville’s lead to 4-3.
Aces reliever Brent Jurceka fell behind Gillaspie 2-0 and then put him on first with an intentional walk. Simpson followed by doubling in Dearman and Parker.
A two-out walk hurt Ladwig in second. Shain Showers hit his fourth home run of the season after Eric McKibban walked to put the Aces up 2-1. The Aces regained the lead 4-3 with two runs of Ladwig in the fifth. Jake Mahon drove in two runs with a one-out single. Evansville tied it 6-all on Kyle Pollock’s two-out home run in the eighth.
On this day, WSU’s offense responded. The Shockers wrapped up a 30-win season and won’t join the ranks of 0-and-2 teams.
“Nobody wants to go out on a bad note,” Parker said. “We’re coming in with a dirtbag mindset, not wanting to lose, doing whatever it takes.”