The Missouri Valley Conference baseball schedule tilted in favor of Wichita State so far. This weekend offers the Shockers a chance to take full advantage before things get tougher.
WSU is in first place after playing two of its first three MVC series at home and sweeping last-place Bradley on the road. Starting Friday, the Shockers (21-17, 7-2 MVC) face struggling Evansville (14-23, 5-4).
The Shockers could use another sweep before heading on the road to face seventh-place Southern Illinois and second-place Missouri State. WSU coach Gene Stephenson knows all that, while not wanting to acknowledge it. The Shockers are too fragile to think too far ahead.
“Our focus is the next game and that’s what it has to be,” Stephenson said. “We need to put together some good games in a row and not have ups and downs.”
That task looks more difficult with WSU’s injury list. Reliever Albert Minnis left Tuesday’s game against Kansas State with tightness in his left forearm. Minnis has not thrown since and Stephenson is unsure if he will pitch this weekend. Second baseman Cody Bobbit came to practice Thursday with his right hand wrapped in ice after getting hit by a pitch Tuesday. While Bobbit probably can’t hit or field, Stephenson will place him on the weekend roster with hopes he can pinch-run.
Minnis’ injury hurts WSU’s bullpen depth. In three MVC appearances, he compiled a 1.59 ERA with 10 strikeouts and three walks. Bobbit is hitting .308 in Valley games and is 6 for 17 with four stolen bases in the past five games.
WSU’s bullpen is crucial, because the starting pitching is unreliable. Cale Elam, Friday’s starter, is coming off a 4-0 win over Bradley a week ago. The MVC and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association selected him as pitcher of the week for his first complete-game performance since becoming a starter this season. A.J. Ladwig, Saturday’s starter, hasn’t made it past the sixth inning in his three MVC starts.
The third spot in the rotation is a bigger problem. Kris Gardner started two MVC games and gave up five runs and 13 hits in nine innings. Drew Palmer took his place against Bradley and allowed six runs and five hits in 1 1/3 innings.
“I don’t know for sure what we’re going to do Sunday,” Stephenson said. “We’ll try to win the games Friday and Saturday and see what happens after that.”
The Aces bring a six-game losing streak to Eck Stadium and are 4-13 on the road.