Wichita State is the fourth seed in its NCAA regional, behind Bryant. That indicates low expectations for the Shockers, who enter the tournament with an RPI ranked No. 102.
The Shockers (39-26) don’t consider themselves the weakling of the four-team regional, not after winning five straight games in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. While the MVC didn’t produce an at-large-worthy team, those wins mean something to the Shockers. They play top-seeded Kansas State (41-17) at 2 p.m. Friday at Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan. Second-seeded Arkansas (37-20) plays third-seeded Bryant (44-16-1) at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We hustled and played hard and played fundamentally good baseball, probably for the first time all year (in the tournament),” WSU first baseman Casey Gillaspie said. “We’ve got to have that same mind-set and make sure we all get locked in from the first pitch.”
The Shockers viewed the Manhattan assignment as generally good news. It’s close, and the Shockers are coming off a nine-hour bus ride to Normal, Ill. They know their opponent after losing two games to the Big 12 champion Wildcats, 7-6 and 4-1. In 2012, many of these same Shockers swept the series, winning 9-7 and 10-3.
“Hopefully, we get some great fan support up there,” WSU third baseman Erik Harbutz said.
The team, coaches and fans gathered at Abuelo’s to watch the selection show. With the automatic bid, the location created the only sense of drama. The crowd cheered when WSU popped up on the screen for good reason — no current Shocker has played in an NCAA regional. Designated hitter Johnny Coy redshirted in 2009, the last time the Shockers qualified.
“Our team is really just coming on at the right time,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. “We’re beginning to get a lot of confidence and I think that’s really a big plus.”
The Shockers, in addition to their season-high five-game streak, have won eight of 10 games. They are on a season-high nine-game errorless streak and they hit .351, slugging .464, in six MVC Tournament games.
“We’re hot right now,” shortstop Dayne Parker said. “We know we can hit with them. I think we can hit with anybody right now.”
To win this regional, WSU will need to play better, against top competition, than it has this season. According to warrennolan.com’s power rankings, it went 0-4 against top-50 RPI teams and 5-14 against teams ranked 51-100.