Missouri State starter Nick Petree threw 119 pitches in six innings, which might indicate a pitcher laboring through a tough outing.
By Petree’s standards, there was some truth to that. Even at less than his best, Petree shut down Wichita State in Friday’s 6-0 victory at Eck Stadium. He struck out nine and walked three to lower his ERA to 0.77 and extend his scoreless innings streak to 49 1/3 in his past eight starts.
“I definitely wasn’t at my sharpest, but they made me work, too,” Petree said. “I’d get ahead of them, and then they wouldn’t chase so I would end up throwing a lot of pitches.”
WSU, which managed five hits and stranded nine runners, faces two must-win games if it expects to contend for the Missouri Valley Conference title. The Shockers (23-18, 5-5 MVC) can’t afford to drop a home series when it already trails MSU (28-11, 7-2) and Indiana State in the standings.
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At least the Shockers are done with Petree, who struck out 11 Shockers in eight innings last season. He doesn’t throw hard, but his location is precise and his pitch selection is unpredictable. He didn’t allow a leadoff runner to reach base and he threw first-pitch strikes to the first seven batters and 17 of the 22 faced.
“He mixed it up on all of us all night,” WSU first baseman Casey Gillaspie said. “He never made many mistakes up. I tip my hat to him.”
No other choice existed than to give Petree credit. He stranded runners at second and third in the second by striking out WSU freshmen Mikel Mucha and Tyler Baker. In the third, a single by Taylor Doggett and two-out walks to Don Lambert and Johnny Coy loaded the bases. Petree struck Gillaspie out on a 3-2 changeup high in the strike zone. In the fourth inning, a walk and throwing error on shortstop Eric Cheray put Baker at third with two outs. Doggett flew out to end that threat.
WSU pitching coach Brent Kemnitz, who took over when home-plate umpire Wayne Harris ejected coach Gene Stephenson in the fifth inning, joined in giving Petree his props.
“I didn’t feel like he was on his A game,” Kemnitz said. “But, you know what, that’s the sign of a good pitcher. Here’s a guy, we had him on the ropes early, but he would come up with a big pitch when he needed it. He’s normally sharper than that. His velocity is normally better. Kudos to him.”
Missouri State scored five runs in the third inning to give Petree plenty of breathing room. WSU starter Josh Smith gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning and things unraveled from there. Spiker Helms hustled to third on Kevin Medrano’s single, setting himself to score on a Brent Seifert’s bunt. Luke Voit singled in Medrano for a 2-0 lead. A walk loaded the bases and the Bears strung together three singles — one a bunt by Trey Massenberg - to extend the lead to 5-0.
Smith lasted 4 1/3 innings, his shortest outing of the season. He allowed nine hits and five runs with three walks. The Bears didn’t knock him around the park, but they never let him get comfortable and strung together good at-bats up and down the lineup. Smith didn’t retire them in order until the fourth.
“It’s a typical Missouri State team — they’re very scrappy, they’re very competive,” Kemnitz said. “They put the ball in play.”
With a 5-0 lead, MSU coach Keith Guttin took no chances. He went to closer Tyler Burgess in the seventh for the final three innings. He threw 46 pitches and allowed one hit.
“If it’s there, we want to take it,” Guttin said.
MSU did just that and the Bears need one more win to take a series at Eck Stadium for the first time in eight attempts.