Wichita State’s fall baseball series successfully dodged bad weather again on Sunday. Gold won 6-0 to force Wednesday’s game 7. Since losing 15-3 and 15-3 to fall behind 3-1, Gold has won two straight and given up four runs to Black.
Third base might be the most interesting position to watch in the spring. Freshman Nate Goro is a good defensive player and isn’t overwhelmed at the plate. A 3-for-5 day pushed his average in six series games to .320. His three doubles are tied for the Gold lead. A few weeks ago, his defensive skills gave him a clear edge over redshirt freshman Johnny Coy. Coy, however, is impressing everyone with his rapid improvement in the field and at the plate. Goro remains a better defender, but the gap isn’t as wide as it once was. Coy is red-hot in the series, hitting .500 in six games. He went 8 for 8 in games 4 and 5 before an 0-for-4 performance on Sunday afternoon. Most impressive is this stat: One strikeout in 24 at-bats. I saw two defensive plays (one a line drive off his glove and the other a grounder that got under him) that Coy probably needs to make. If his defense continues to improve at this rate, he is on his way to being a solid third baseman.
“I feel really comfortable,” Goro said. “Defense is one of my strong suits. It’s something I definitely take pride in. When the pitcher’s out there, I want him to feel confident that if the ball’s hit my way, I’m going to be there.”
It’s probably no coincidence that Gold’s pitching improved as soon as catcher Chris O’Brien returned from a bone bruise in his right hand. With O’Brien catching the past two games, Gold has allowed three earned runs. Sunday, Charlie Lowell and Remington Johnson combined to hold Black to three hits. Lowell is the only one of WSU’s big four returners who is pitching in the series. He is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings. Sunday, he struck out four and allowed two hits in five innings.Freshman pitcher T.J. McGreevy is putting up the best numbers of the newcomers on the mound. He is 2-0, allowing five hits and no runs in nine innings. McGreevy, from Topeka, has struck out four and walked none.
“I’ve been hitting my spots, inside and outside, pretty well,” he said. “If you can do that, then you mix in your off-speed and keep the hitters off balance.”
I don’t know how much freshman Erik Harbutz will play this season. He’s behind Tyler Grimes at short and Will Baez at second, and I would think both will be hard to dislodge. Regardless, Harbutz looks like a guy who will help the Shockers at some point. He never looks out of place and seems to make heady plays regularly. He is hitting .318 with a series-leading four doubles. He has struck out once in 22 at-bats and walked seven times. That’s good stuff for a freshman.Pitchers Tim Kelley, Jordan Cooper and Brian Flynn didn’t throw at all in the series and little this fall. They’re resting after busy summers.Pitcher Tyler Fleming will have surgery Monday morning to clean out scar tissue in his shoulder. Fleming was basically on the shelf this fall as he continues to rehab from a torn labrum that cost him the 2009 season.Pitching coach Brent Kemnitz got a long look at Josh Smith and likes what he saw. Smith, who started two games in the series, went 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA for Black. Smith, in Kemnitz’s mind, is better as a starter than a reliever.Senior pitcher Cobey Guy, who battled a lot of injuries last season, has 12 strikeouts (five walks) and a 2.45 ERA in 7.1 innings.Baez is second on the Black with a .400 batting average. Outfielder Mitch Caster is hitting .348 with two doubles and two home runs and a team-leading .696 slugging percentage. Catcher Ryan Hege, a sophomore transfer from Cowley County, leads Gold with a .455 batting average and a .727 slugging percentage. Freshman outfielder Micah Green, who can’t play the field because of shoulder problems, went 5 for 13 in three games. Senior first baseman Clint McKeever is hitting .360.In something of a switch, the Shockers have a lot of DH candidates. To a point that’s good. In some recent seasons, DH has been a non-productive position. This season, Coy, first baseman Preston Springer, outfielder Travis Bennett and either O’Brien or returning catcher Cody Lassley figure to be candidates. For some of those players, however, being in the DH spot means they need work on defense.Former Oklahoma coach Enos Semore, Gene Stephenson’s old boss with the Sooners, stopped by to check out the game and Eck Stadium’s new turf.Wednesday’s game starts at 3 p.m.