The bad pitching outweighed the good pitching for Wichita State. That was the story of Sunday's 10-3 loss to Missouri State at Eck Stadium.
In two weeks, the story might be much different.
The Shockers damaged their chances at winning the Missouri Valley Conference title by failing to sweep the Bears. Their already slim NCAA at-large hopes faded more with a loss to the Valley's last-place team.
The return of pitcher Charlie Lowell, however, could ultimately redeem an otherwise irredeemable day. Lowell took the first step toward a return to the starting rotation, a key piece of any hopes for WSU (34-18, 15-6 MVC) to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
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"We're going to have to get at least three great pitching performances to get to the final in the Valley tournament," WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. "Charlie is a guy we're going to need, there's no question about that."
WSU wasted an opportunity to pull within percentage points of MVC-leader Illinois State, which lost to Bradley 8-7 in 14 innings. Instead, the Shockers remain a half-game behind the Redbirds (26-20, 14-4). WSU needs Illinois State to lose two this weekend at Evansville to tie for the regular-season title. WSU owns the tie-breaker for the top tournament seed after winning the regular-season series at Illinois State.
Regardless of seed, both teams likely need to win the MVC Tournament to make an NCAA regional.
That's where Lowell comes in. The sophomore lefty made his first appearance since forearm tightness sidelined him on April 4 and threw two scoreless innings, allowing a two-out single and a walk while striking out four.
"I felt good," he said. "I was just trying to do my job and keep us where we were at."
That was the problem.
Missouri State (19-30, 5-13) scored six runs in the third inning and led 10-2 when Lowell came on in the seventh. After shutout losses on Friday and Saturday, the Bears packed all their timely hits and good fortune into one inning on Sunday.
WSU starter Josh Smith got two flyball outs to start the inning. Kevin Medrano singled to begin Smith's demise. He stole second without a throw for the second time and Smith walked Keenen Maddox on five pitches.
"I knew he was going to run," Smith said. "With two outs, I was more worried about the guy at the plate. Once I walked him, things started to go wrong."
The Bears didn't smack Smith around. A few well-placed singles did the job. Tyler Paxon singled up the middle. Curt Courtwright lofted a ball into left. Tyler Ryun singled to right.
That gave MSU a 3-1 lead. Stephenson went to lefty Logan Hoch in relief of Smith when Courtwright stole third, again without a throw.
"I started falling behind in counts," Smith said. "I didn't hold runners well and things started to snowball."
Hoch got a groundball, but first baseman Johnny Coy couldn't hold a low throw by shortstop Tyler Grimes and another run scored. The real damage came when No. 9 hitter Brett Marshall, hitting .122, smacked his second double of the season to drive in two runs for a 6-1 lead.
"We set a bad tone from the start," Stephenson said. "We had two outs and nobody on in the third inning and they scored six runs after that _ which is pretty indicative of the pitching we were getting."
The Bears added two runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth, ending a streak of 20 scoreless innings against WSU with multiple runs in three straight. Starter Pat Doyle took advantage of the run support by scattering nine hits. He survived with groundball outs and didn't allow an extra-base hit until the seventh inning.
"I was spotting my fastball and changeup," he said. "They had a lot of lefties in the lineup, so I needed to have both those working for me."
The Shockers helped by swinging at pitches early in the count with no reward. A double play helped him get out of the third inning. He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth with a groundball out.
"They've got a lot of first-pitch guys, so I knew if I could get ahead with the changeup or get them swinging at that I could keep the pitch-count low and go deep into the game," he said.
Sunday's box score
Missouri State ab r h bi avg.
McComack ss 6 0 0 0 .279
Conway cf 6 1 1 0 .278
Medrano 2b 4 3 2 0 .417
Maddox lf 3 2 2 0 .269
Paxson dh 5 1 3 3 .283
Courtwright 3b 6 1 4 3 .291
Ryun 1b 2 1 1 1 .223
Overstreet h 1 0 0 0 .232
Casey rf-1b 5 1 0 0 .167
Marshall c 5 0 2 2 .138
Totals 43 10 15 9.265
Wichita State ab r h bi avg.
Baez 2b 4 0 1 0 .279
Jones cf 5 1 1 0 .256
Lassley c 4 1 2 0 .372
Springer dh 5 0 1 1 .342
Coy 1b 4 0 2 1 .345
Bennett rf 4 1 0 0 .341
O'Brien 3b 3 0 1 0 .300
Bascue lf 4 0 1 0 .456
Grimes ss 4 0 1 1 .253
Totals 37 3 10 3.297
Missouri State 006 220 000 — 10 Wichita State100 100 010 — 3
E — McComack, Casey, Coy. DP — Missouri St. 2. LOB — Missouri St. 14, WSU 10. 2B — Paxson (5), Marshall (2), Baez (10), Lassley (9). SB — Conway (21), Medrano 3 (15), Courtwright (2).
Missouri St. IP H R ER BB SO ERA
Doyle W,5-8 7 1/3 9 3 1 2 1 4.06
Gordon 1 2/3 1 0 0 1 3 4.37
WSU IP H R ER BB SO ERA
Smith L,4-3 2 2/3 6 5 3 1 2 4.73
Hoch 2/3 4 3 2 1 1 2.43
Sossamon 1 1 2 2 3 1 8.76
Guy 1 2/3 1 0 0 1 3 4.50
Lowell 2 1 0 0 1 4 4.23
McKeever 1 2 0 0 0 2 0.00
WP — Guy. HBP — Paxson (by Smith). Balk — Lowell. Umpires — home, Tom Svehla; first, Bill McGuire; third, Wayne Harris. T — 3:09. A — 3,567.
Wichita State lefty Charlie Lowell was nothing but encouraged by Sunday's two scoreless innings.
His forearm didn't bother him at all. He looked sharp despite a six-week layoff to rehab tightness in his forearm.
"My fastball felt good," he said. "My slider felt good. I was throwing everything pretty well. It went very well, especially from what I was expecting."
Lowell started the seventh inning and struck out Missouri State's top hitter, Kevin Medrano. After a walk, he struck out Tyler Paxson looking and ended the inning with a groundball. In the eighth, he struck out the first two batters before allowing a single. Another groundball ended the inning.
Lowell expects to throw in relief again this weekend against Dallas Baptist, a series that begins Thursday. Should that go well, he wants to return to the rotation for the MVC Tournament.
Save the date
Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson plans on playing Oral Roberts on Tuesday at Eck Stadium.
It's on the schedule, but things might not be that simple.
ORU may chose not to come to Wichita because they are scheduled for one more game than the 56 allowed by the NCAA. At least, that was the talk in the press box and on Sunday's radio broadcast.
Stephenson and WSU athletic director Eric Sexton said no one from ORU has contacted them.
Game on, in their minds.
"They're overscheduled, but that's their problem," Stephenson said. "We have a contract. They're going to play."
ORU is 29-23 with five games remaining. It is scheduled for Tuesday at WSU and a four-game Summit League series against North Dakota State beginning Thursday.
The Missouri Valley Conference baseball staff will pick its pitcher of the week today. WSU boasts two first-rate candidates after the weekend.
Who to nominate?
Tami Cutler, who handles WSU's baseball sports information, lets pitching coach Brent Kemnitz make the choice. The decision is due by noon today.
Sophomore Jordan Cooper struck out a career-high 14 during Friday's 3-0 win over MSU. He allowed six hits and no walks.
Junior Tim Kelley followed him with 10 strikeouts in Saturday's two-hit win, 8-0.
The threat of rain delayed the start by 18 minutes.... Chris O'Brien started at third base for the first time this season, replacing both Nate Goro and Erik Harbutz. Goro started the first two games of the series. Harbutz, out with a sports hernia, usually starts against right-handers. O'Brien started 42 games at third in 2009. . . . MSU scored six runs in the third inning, more runs than it has scored in 32 of its 49 games.... The Bears snapped a six-game losing streak at Eck Stadium.... WSU catcher Cody Lassley went 6 for 12 in the series and drove in five runs. DH Preston Springer drove in three, despite going 2 for 13. Second baseman Will Baez went 5 for 11 to raise his average to .279 overall and .317 in MVC games.
_ Paul Suellentrop