The Shockers are headed to Illinois State after routs of Kansas (22-7) and Oklahoma State (13-7) this week. What significance should we attach to WSU’s offensive awakening?
Precious darn little, at this point.
The Shockers hammered two second-division Big 12 teams at home (both with pitching staffs ranked in the bottom half), which is nice. WSU is still out of the NCAA at-large discussion. Maybe a slim hope remains, but it certainly depends on a ridiculously strong finish. Contending for the MVC title depends on this weekend’s performance. We’ve seen how the Shockers struggle on the road, so being skeptical remains a safe play.
I’m inclined to believe the Shockers found something during those two mid-week games. Some of it has been developing previously – WSU is 6-2 in its past eight with disappointing performances against Kansas State and San Jose State a buzz kill. We’ve gradually seen some solid performers – Logan Hoch, Chance Sossamon, Cobey Guy – steady the bullpen. Freshman pitcher Tobin Mateychick looks like a guy you can envision pitching in the MVC Tournament. The past two nights, we’ve seen Preston Springer get back on track in a big way – 10 RBI. That’s a reflection of Springer hitting the ball – and of hitters in front of him getting on base.
Shocker hitters reached base 22 times in those two games with a two-strike count – counting hits, walks, errors and hit by pitch. Six other times they put the ball in play. They struck out 17 times, which is too much. But that seems to indicate the Shockers were trying to be tough outs. Just by doing those things, they put OSU (the Big 12’s best fielding team) and KU in position to commit three errors each night. The Shockers desperately need some scrappy hitters to join tough outs like Tyler Grimes, and the last two nights provides hope they are listening to what the coaches preach.
I’m going to go out on a limb and credit Hoch and first baseman Johnny Coy with a good amount of this momentum.
In his past four outings, Hoch has 12 strikeouts and three walks in eight scoreless innings, all against Division I schools. More than that, he looks like a guy who wants the ball. Sossamon and Guy started digging the bullpen out of its hole in early April, and Hoch is running with it.
Coy’s influence on the lineup, while over a shorter time, seems just as important. I don’t think it’s coincidence Springer came out of his slump when Coy became a regular. It seems like all the Shockers relaxed when Coy started hitting doubles and home runs over the weekend. He is a talented hitter, he works hard and he is a threat pitchers must respect. He gives the Shockers presence in the lineup.
Coy is hitting .500 (8-16) in the past four games, with two doubles, two home runs, five RBI and five runs. When he got hot, it’s as if the rest of the Shockers figured out where they fit in the lineup. Springer no longer felt the burden of driving in every run, because Coy (and Cody Lassley) are threats. The rest of the Shockers figured they better get on base, because somebody was likely to double them in. “Since Johnny’s been stroking, Preston’s free and easy up there,” Lassley said. “It just lightens the load for everybody else when guys step up and drive the ball. It’s not like he’s just hitting singles. He’s driving the ball into gaps and over the fence.”