The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship might be decided on the warning track at Eck Stadium.
Or on the golf course next to the stadium. Or in a swimming pool, or on a jogging track somewhere in Wichita. Those are the places No. 1 pitchers will try to revive their bodies and flush the lactic acid from their arms after today's games. The championship is Saturday, and they want to be back on the mound on three days rest.
"We've been working on quick rebounds all year," Indiana State junior Jacob Petricka said. "I've got to make sure I run and swim right after the start. I plan on playing Saturday, no matter what."
With its third format change in three years, the tournament added two teams (eight total) and one day (five) this season. It wasn't unheard of to see pitchers come back on short rest in the previous formats. With an extra day, it is part of the plan. The two teams alive on Saturday will almost certainly use their top arm again in the championship. There are no at-large locks in the field, so everybody is playing with the season on the line.
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"That will be considered by a lot of coaches," Bradley coach Elvis Dominguez said. "You hate to throw a guys on three days rest, but we did a pretty job of trying to keep the pitch count down when (Patrick Cooper) did start (last week)."
Top-seeded Wichita State is the only MVC team with any chance at an at-large bid, and the Shockers are in iffy territory. They approach this as a must-win week. Sophomore Jordan Cooper, named the MVC's Pitcher of the Year on Monday, told coaches he wants the ball on Saturday.
"They'll know that I want to be in there, and I'll make sure my body is ready to be able to do that," he said. "I have so much confidence in myself that I would want the ball at some point in the game if we're trying to make it to the NCAA tournament."
Jordan Cooper will face Missouri State lefty Mike Kickham tonight in a rematch of a duel won by Cooper 3-0 earlier this month.
"I want to go out there and do my best (tonight)," Kickham said. "Then do what I need to do, and in the case of us playing Saturday, I'm definitely going to be good to go."
Coaches look at the tournament as part of a 10-day period in which they will try to manage pitch counts over a possible three appearances. A big early lead or a run-rule victory today makes the job easier.
WSU pulled Jordan Cooper after 86 pitches on Thursday. Second-seeded Illinois State starter Corey Maines threw 3 1/3 innings before rain suspended his game against Evansville. No Redbird starter went more than 6 1/3 innings in the series, and their staff is back-stopped by All-MVC relievers Kenny Long and Ryan Copeland. Creighton took advantage of a non-conference series to keep starters Jonas Dufek and Ty Blach under 40 pitches against New Orleans.
"We held out our Tuesday and Wednesday guys, and really watched their pitch counts for the opportunity to try to have a better chance (in the tournament)," Creighton coach Ed Servais said.
On Wednesday, the starters begin their recovery. Most throw on six days rest during the season. They went on five days last week with the schedule moved up a day before the tournament
"I think more than anything it's a mental thing," Jordan Cooper said. "If you tell yourself 'I'm going to be ready, I've got to be ready by this' and you make sure you get your rest and get your running and get your weights in and you'll be fine."
Kickham usually runs 20 minutes after a start. He will bump that up to 30 when preparing for short rest.
"It's just a world of difference," he said. "The soreness is less and I'm able to come back a day or two sooner. I've gone four days rest three or four times this year, and it hasn't bothered me."
The Sycamores started a swim routine this season as part of their recovery.
"When you're done you feel dead tired, but it's a good tired," Petricka said. "The next day, you just feel amazing."
Petricka, an All-MVC selection after going 4-1 with a 2.02 ERA in conference games, may own an edge in the turnaround department. He has made 19 appearances, some in relief, often throwing on short rest. He is also the pitcher WSU doesn't want to see on Saturday coming out of the other bracket. He shut out the Shockers over eight innings on three hits in a 2-0 win on April 16. A Petricka-Cooper rematch would showcase two of the MVC's top draft prospects.
"I want to be out there, and even if I'm tired I want to go out there and give it all I've got," Petricka said. "I figure adrenalin is going to play a big part."
Cooper, Springer honored — The Shockers were busy collecting MVC honors at Monday's banquet.
Cooper became the first Shocker since Aaron Shafer in 2006 to win Pitcher of the Year honors. Junior designated hitter Preston Springer won Newcomer of the Year, the first Shocker so honored since the award began in 1992.
Outfielder Bret Bascue, pitcher Tim Kelley and catcher Cody Lassley joined them on the All-MVC team. Outfielder Travis Bennett was named to the second team. First baseman Johnny Coy and reliever Logan Hoch received honorable mention.
Scheduling change — School administrators recommended adding Dallas Baptist to schedules for all MVC schools in 2011, a step toward making the school a baseball-only member of the conference.
"This is progress," WSU athletic director Eric Sexton said. "I'm pleased."
The MVC presidents council will vote on the scheduling arrangement next week, Sexton said. After 2011, both parties will evaluate the relationship and Dallas Baptist's worthiness as an affiliate member in time for the 2012 season.