Wichita State lost the Missouri Valley Conference title and won a game on Saturday in its last at-bat. Coach Gene Stephenson addressed his uncertain future.
Quite a day at Eck Stadium.
WSU rallied from a three-run deficit to defeat Northwestern 4-3 in 10 innings. After, facing a pack of cameras, Stephenson looked around the 7,851-seat stadium his winning teams built and tried to turn the conversation to the MVC Tournament. His contract is up after the 2014 season and, should WSU choose to buy out that final year, he pondered the possibility of coaching his final game at Eck Stadium after 36 seasons.
“If they think they can find better, it’s their right to do so,” he said. “This may have been our last home game, for all I know. I’ve had no conversations with anybody. We’re focused on trying to win.”
The Shockers (34-25) leave Sunday for the MVC Tournament, where they will be the No. 2 seed. Top-seeded Illinois State won the MVC title on Sunday with a 9-8 win at Southern Illinois in 10 innings. The Shockers needed SIU to win one of three games to share the title and the Salukis lost 4-3, 2-0 and 9-8 at home to relegate WSU to second place.
“You can’t depend on anybody else,” Stephenson said. “We had our chance last weekend.”
Sweeping Northwestern (22-26) helps the mood a little. The Shockers set their pitching for tournament action on short rest by limiting their starters to around 70-80 pitches and all three looked sharp. The bullpen, as usual, performed. WSU didn’t commit an error. While the hitters struggled against Northwestern’s starters, they hit .373 with 38 hits in the series. Almost everybody did something good to think about on the 10-hour bus ride to Normal, Ill. WSU plays seventh-seeded SIU on Tuesday.
“We actually played three games in a row pretty consistently,” WSU catcher Tyler Baker said. “We turned it on in the right innings.”
WSU freshman Daniel Kihle also faced a pack of cameras. He drove in Baker with the winning run in the 10th, whacking a 1-0 pitch by Northwestern reliever Jack Livingston to center field. Baker, who singled to lead off the inning, jogged home from third to give WSU its third weekend sweep this season. His teammates mobbed him at home, then ran to celebrate with Kihle near second base. Kihle’s hit completed a comeback in which the Shockers scored two in the eighth and one in the ninth after trailing 3-0.
“The dugout was down and we were trying to pick it up,” Kihle said. “Then we started getting guys on, in the eighth, and it really started picking up.”
Baker got the 10th started and Casey Gillaspie moved him to third with a single into right field. That brought up Kihle, who pinch-ran for Johnny Coy in the eighth and last produced a hit on March 21 at Hawaii. After Livingston missed with a fastball, he tipped off his next pitch.
“I could see him change grips,” Kihle said. “I was sitting on a curveball.”
Both offenses sputtered through most of the game. WSU starter Garrett Brummett held the Wildcats scoreless for five innings, scattering seven hits. Northwestern starter Zach Morton struck out six in seven scoreless innings, helped by four double plays.
Northwestern scored three runs in the eighth off reliever T.J. McGreevy, totaling five consecutive singles off him and Foster Vielock.
WSU responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning, helped by Northwestern’s shaky defense.Reliever Ethan Bramschreiber hit Micah Green on the shoulder to start the inning. Green stole second and scored on a single by Tanner Dearman. The left field threw home, allowing Dearman to get to second base. He stole third and scored on a throwing error by first baseman Jack Havey.
Erik Harbutz led off the ninth with a double that one-hopped the wall in center. He moved to third on pinch-hitter Dayne Parker’s single to right. Green drove him in with a sacrifice fly to tie the score 3-all.
Check Paul Suellentrop’s Shocker blog at blogs.kansas.com/shockwaves. Reach him at 316-269-6760 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
E — Hunter, Havey. DP — Northwestern 4, WSU 2. LOB — Northwestern 11, WSU 10. 2B — Harbutz (13). SF — Green. SB — Ruchim (10), Bayliff (11), Green (4), Dearman 2 (10). CS — Stevens.
WP — Morton. HBP — Green (by Bramschreiber). Umpires — Phil Plantz, home; Doug McClure, first; John Knight, third. T — 2:54. A — 3,316.