When the most painful 30 minutes of their athletic careers ended, the Shockers expressed sadness, regret and disappointment — with a bit of anger.
Wichita State will not play in an NCAA baseball regional for the first time since 2001 and third time since 1986. The selection committee handed out 34 at-large bids on Monday, passing over the Shockers and ending the college careers of 10 seniors.
"It's really brutal, especially the way that we were playing down the stretch," WSU outfielder Kevin Hall said. "Sitting around here, and having to wait and watch, that was the toughest part. And then knowing that's how the seniors ended it, that's what really hurts."
The team gathered at Eck Stadium to watch the selection show on ESPN, knowing the odds stacked against them. By Sunday night, writers at Baseball America, ESPN and Rivals.com made their predictions and omitted WSU.
"I felt all along we had to win the (Missouri Valley Conference) tournament," WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. "I wasn't real confident, believe me."
When it ended, players packed up, said good-byes and headed for more baseball, school or jobs. It ended somberly and too quickly for a program used to making travel plans for a regional.
The seniors did TV interviews, trying to sum up the disappointment of their final days as a Shocker. Pitchers Grant Muncrief and Brian Flynn made arrangements for their summer teams. Ryan Jones prepared to hit the pool and — with his college days over — exercise his legal right to enjoy a margarita. Volunteer assistant coach Brandon Hall will hook up with former Shocker Mike Pelfrey for a New York Mets road trip.
"We were a bubble team," Muncrief said. "We had some big losses. We didn't have a whole lot of quality wins against top 25 teams. That kind of thing hurts you."
Stephenson admitted as much, reciting a list of games the Shockers needed to win, and didn't.
"I'm confident we know what we need to do," Stephenson said. "We need to get better at what we do, and we need to be more consistent."
The RPI — a power ranking used by the selection committee to judge teams — placed WSU No. 56. The Shockers went 3-5 against the top 50 and didn't play a particularly strong schedule. Working in their favor was an 18-5 record — all against NCAA Division I opponents — since April 23.
"I'm always told that it's how you down the stretch that's important," Stephenson said. "Nobody did better than we did the last month of the season."
While the Shockers knew their case possessed shortcomings, they hoped a strong finish would get them in the 64-team field. They consider themselves a regional-caliber team.
"I just think it's ridiculous," Jones said. "Illinois State got a No. 3 seed, and I think we're just as good as they are. I think we deserved to be in there."
The Shockers also knew they wouldn't get any breaks from the RPI, a system of measuring teams the coaches consider unfair and inaccurate. North Carolina (36-20) started the season with 13 home games — seven against teams 200 or lower in the RPI — played three non-conference road games and didn't make the ACC Tournament. It compiled a No. 22 RPI and will play in a regional. Arizona (33-22), a team that spanked WSU twice in March, is No. 23 after finishing 6-13 and plays on.
"The RPI is the major thing that they use, and the RPI is totally flawed," Stephenson said. "It favors the Southern and Southeastern and Southwestern teams, because they are able to bring in the Northern teams and play all their games at home. Then they spend the rest of the season playing each other. Their RPI goes up, regardless of whether they win or lose because they won all their games early."
The Shockers who return for next season know their task — win more games and separate themselves from the group of flawed teams watching nervously on selection day.
"There was that stretch in the middle where we weren't playing so well," Kevin Hall said. "We need to know that, right from the beginning, we need to play well because something like this can come back to bite us."