MVC Tournament rewind

05/26/2013 7:43 AM

05/26/2013 7:43 AM

Scores: Southern Illinois 5, Wichita State 1; WSU 11, Creighton 4; WSU 15, SIU 0 (7); WSU 5, Indiana State 0; WSU 5, Indiana State 4; WSU 5, Illinois State 2

Key stats: The two shutouts on Thursday (by Garrett Brummett/Zach Beringer against SIU and Kris Gardner against Indiana State) made everything possible. The Shockers totaled 24 straight scoreless innings by Friday and still had plenty of pitching left for Saturday. College baseball, with the BBCOR bats, rewards teams that don’t make mistakes and the Shockers played flawless, sometimes spectacular defense and didn’t commit an error. Meanwhile, DH Johnny Coy hit .391, homered and drove in eight runs to supply punch in the middle of the order missing much of the season. The starters, with top-shelf efforts from A.J. Ladwig, Brummett, Gardner and Albert Minnis, handed it back to Elam on Saturday for his seven strong innings.

Record: WSU 39-26

I put stars in my scorebook to designate great defensive plays, an area that often gets the short end when covering baseball. The Shockers earned six stars in six games and several more came close. From Mikel Mucha crashing over a fence for a foul ball to Casey Gillaspie snagging balls at first base to Tanner Dearman ranging far behind second to throw out runners, the Shockers showed up big with their gloves. On Saturday, Mucha added another memorable catch when sped in to shallow left and dove to grab a bloop by Chad Hinshaw to start the eighth. Hinshaw has stolen 33 of 37 bases this season. With him on base, the Redbirds get an injection of hope with six outs to go. “I thought it was going to fall in because that wind was holding it up,” reliever Aaron LaBrie said. “If anybody on this team was going to be able to catch it, it was going to be him. It played out huge.” The Shockers improved their fielding percentage to .977, which would be a program record if it holds. During Monday’s practices, an MVC coach asked about coach Gene Stephenson’s contract situation and kept saying “It can’t be about the wins, it can’t be about the wins.” That sums up this strange time. I’ve covered WSU since the 2005-06 school year and the situation with Stephenson is the most – choose your word – interesting, uncomfortable, sad, regrettable, awkward – moment I’ve encountered. Stephenson’s contract is up after the 2014 season. There is no indication an extension from athletic director Eric Sexton is forthcoming. Without an extension, a lame-duck season in 2014 seems unlikely and unfair to everybody, from the coaches to the athletes, not to mention fans. Making the NCAAs adds another layer. Sexton has said Stephenson will be evaluated after the season and Saturday’s victory adds an interesting talking point for that meeting. Regardless of your long-term opinion, the Shocker coaches  pushed this team – a team with two seniors – through an excellent week of baseball under tough conditions. It is an odd, odd thing to cover this team and try to balance the current accomplishments and the high-interest nature of the coaching staff’s future. Kansas State and Arkansas appear to be the nearest schools with a chance of hosting a regional. The 16 sites are announced on Sunday. The Shockers walked 31 times and struck out 33 in the six tournament games. That’s significant for a team that struck out 434 times and walked 258 during the regular season. Dearman continues to set a good example leading off. He walked seven times in six games and his on-base percentage of .500 tied for second-best on the team during the tournament. Sophomore second baseman Cody Bobbit was playing well when he broke his hand on April 16 and his loss looked like a major blow. Dearman stepped right in offensively and defensively. Garrett Bayliff hit .458 in the tournament to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. He drove in seven runs, as did Mikel Mucha, who hit .450 and led WSU with a .700 slugging percentage. Erik Harbutz continued a late-season surge, hitting .350 in the tournament and is hitting .314 over his past 16 games. By Saturday, it was possible to look at the lineup and think the Shockers presented a lot of tough outs. That was not the case all season and will need to continue if they want to make noise in a regional. The Shockers won their 18th MVC Tournament title and avenged a 2010 loss to the Redbirds at Eck Stadium. They won the tournament after losing the first game for the first time since 2004. WSU has lost its opener 10 times and won the title twice. Evansville, in 2006, is the last MVC team to lose its opener and win the tournament. WSU is a season-high 13 games over .500. It was 12-11 on March 23 after a 1-6 trip to Long Beach State and Hawaii. It enters the regional winning eight of nine games and with a five-game win streak, its longest of the season.

Next up: NCAA selection show, 11 a.m. Monday (ESPNU)

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