The Shockers watch Creighton's celebration after Saturday's MVC Tournament title game.Scores: Wichita State 2, Evansville 1 – WSU 7, Indiana State 3 – ISU 7, WSU 6 – WSU 9, ISU 0 – Creighton 3, WSU 1
Record: WSU finishes the season 39-26
Bottom line: Shockers end their season in the title game of the MVC Tournament for a second straight season. It’s the first time missing an NCAA regional in consecutive seasons since 1978 and 1979. The Shockers went 10-5 vs. the NCAA field announced Monday, which tells you the Shockers were capable of playing well. Didn’t do that nearly often enough however, as the lack of weekend sweeps shows. It appears, at least in the short term, that the MVC Tournament will move around to several sites. WSU may not enjoy the comfort of playing the tournament at home four out of five seasons, making its path to a regional more difficult.
Weekend wonders: C Chris O’Brien backed up his MVC Player of the Year honors with a strong tournament. He went 7 for 18 and drove in seven runs in five games. LH Charlie Lowell gave WSU two good efforts in Omaha, winning the opener by holding Evansville to one run over 61/3 innings and giving the Shockers a chance in the title game with six solid innings. The best news for fans is that the bullpen excelled, and all return in 2011. Sophomore T.J. McGreevy pitched four shutout innings against Indiana State. Freshman closer Cale Elam didn’t give up a run in 5 2/3 innings. Freshman Albert Minnis threw three shutout innings against Indiana State. WSU also got a solid start from freshman Zach Beringer against Indiana State, likely giving fans a preview of one of the weekend starters in 2012. LH Josh Smith hurt by errors in his start in the loss to Indiana State. RF Don Lambert went 8 for 19 in five games, driving in four runs. 3B Dayne Parker went 5 for 19.
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Weekend woes: Other than O’Brien, none of WSU’s top hitters enjoyed a great week. SS Tyler Grimes helped by going 4 for 16 with eight walks, giving O’Brien the most support. No. 2 hitter Kevin Hall went 2 for 17 with eight strikeouts. DH Preston Springer went 3 for 21 and struck out five times. 1B Johny Coy went 4 for 21. With those numbers, it’s amazing the Shockers got to the title game and had a chance to win. Neither Coy nor Springer could shake late-season slumps in Omaha. Springer went 6 for 41 in his final 11 games. Coy finished 9 for 48 over his final 12.
Around the MVC: Creighton won its second tournament title and was rewarded with a No. 2 seed in Oregon State’s regional. The tournament played out according to form, except for Illinois State’s early exit. The third-seeded Redbirds hit .163 and lost in three games. Evansville went out in two, but put balls in play in the final inning of both that came within a few feet of scoring the go-ahead run. Indiana State, with a lineup heavy on freshmen and sophomore, made it to its bracket final.
What’s next: Another long off-season for the Shockers. The weekend rotation will almost certainly need a makeover after the draft takes Lowell and Brian Flynn. Smith’s return is no guarantee. The bullpen should be a strong point with lots of experienced returners. It appears Coy will return (he is draft eligible), which should be a good starting point for the offense. He will play in the Cape Cod League this summer. If he follows form from other Shockers, he will return an improved hitter and enjoy a big junior season. The expected loss of juniors O’Brien and Grimes (and Springer’s graduation) means other hitters must improve. Hall, Lambert and Micah Green make up an excellent defensive outfield (proven several times in the tournament), but the Shockers can’t survive with all three hitting around .250 with on-base percentages under .370. Competition for outfield jobs will be interesting to watch in the fall. With the departure of sophomore Ryan Hege, WSU desperately needs a catcher. Freshman Bob Arens is the presumptive starter, assuming O’Brien doesn’t return. Arens is a hard worker who impressed the coaches with his progress. Hege’s departure (he left the team over a lack of playing time before the game against Kansas State) didn’t appear to bother the Shockers. They went 7-2 without him, their best stretch since early in the season.