Wichita State baseball coach Todd Butler inherited an experienced team, which can be good or bad for a new coach. The returners can either buy in to the new ways or hang on to comfortable routines.
With most of the fall workouts behind him, Butler is pleased with the progress. The Shockers ended practices last month, although they will continue to hit three days a week and work on defense two days a week in small groups until Thanksgiving. Pitchers are taking some time off to rest their arms.
“The fall was fantastic,” he said. “There was some transition in practices and how we did different things, but it’s still the same game they’ve been taught. It was a fun time, because it was an experienced, older group that knows what they’re into — how this league works and the season.”
Butler will enter the holiday break with a good framework for his lineup, although several questions remain.
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• The middle infield is the biggest concern, a position clouded in the fall because an injury kept returner Dayne Parker, who can play both spots, from throwing. Butler is considering senior Erik Harbutz, sophomore Tanner Kirk and freshman Wes Phillips at shortstop. At second, newcomer Zair Koeiman and junior Cody Bobbit are possibles.
“Somebody needs to step forward,” Butler said.
• As expected, senior Cale Elam and junior A.J. Ladwig exit the fall with spots in the weekend rotation. The Sunday spot is open and Butler first mentioned freshman Sam Tewes, a right-hander from Lincoln, Neb., as a candidate.
“He did the typical freshman thing where one day that he pitched was very good and the next time maybe not as good,” Butler said. “Very talented. Very smart. Really has the desire to be a special pitcher here.”
• Senior Foster Vielock will likely get first shot to take over as closer, replacing Brandon Peterson and his 10 saves. Vielock went 3-0 with a 3.71 ERA last season as a reliever. His slider impressed Butler.
“He has what I call a killer pitch to put guys away with two strikes,” Butler said.
• Butler likes sophomore Tanner Dearman in center or left and considers him a leadoff hitter. Last season, Dearman started 39 games at second base and four in center.
“He’s a tough out,” Butler said. “I personally think he’s the Dustin Pedroia of our team. That’s who I want him to emulate. He’s the ignitor to the offense.”
• With first baseman Casey Gillaspie, third baseman Chase Simpson, catcher Tyler Baker and outfielders Garrett Bayliff, Micah Green and Mikel Mucha back, Butler is confident most of the lineup is set with experienced players. He isn’t big on platooning players.
“I do not want to be a guy that changes the lineup and has a different leadoff hitter every other game,” he said. “I don’t think in college you have enough stats to really do the left on left and left vs. right. I just think we need to play our best players, hopefully, every day.”
On the edge — Wichita State’s volleyball power ranking (RPI) slipped to No. 55, which puts the Shockers in a danger zone for NCAA Tournament at-large inclusion. New rankings come out Monday.
While the Shockers missed out on a headline-grabbing non-conference win, they did defeat several teams in contention for conference titles. Entering Saturday’s matches, Louisville (American Athletic Conference), East Tennessee State (Atlantic Sun), South Dakota (Summit League) and Virginia Commonwealth (Atlantic 10) led their standings. Fresno State and Utah State (both Mountain West) are part of a four-way tie for second.
On the other hand, Tennessee (1-11 SEC) is doing the Shockers no favors. A year ago, Tennessee went 22-8 and played in the NCAA Tournament. Portland is 0-22 and No. 268 in the RPI. Those wins aren’t helping WSU’s case.
“Our non-con is trending upwards, which means the world to us,” WSU coach Chris Lamb said. “In a year where the BCS schools have clearly flexed their muscles, if the committee is looking for mid-majors, you can’t go too far before you get to the Shocks. We’ve got good wins. But, we’ve also got bad wins.”
The Shockers can make the RPI irrelevant, of course, by winning the MVC Tournament later this month at Koch Arena.
Ragland on a run — Former Shocker basketball player Joe Ragland earned Eurocup MVP honors for Round 4 of the regular season for Foxtown Cantu, an Italian team.
In four games, Ragland is averaging 17 points and five assists. He is 11 of 18 on three-pointers (61.1 percent).
In the lead — WSU cross country runner Justin Scott is one of 10 athletes to earn the Missouri Valley Conference Leadership and Service Award for the fall.
Scott, a senior from Overland Park, carries a 3.688 grade-point average in mechanical engineering. He participates in service projects such as the Wichita Buddy Walk and the Goddard Intermediate Learning Center Pen Pal Program.
• Sophomore Brady Johnson, senior Samantha Shukla and junior Ebeissa Nyandwi were named to the MVC’s cross country scholar-athlete team. Athletes must finish in the top 20 at the MVC Championships and carry a 3.2 GPA.