It wasn’t hard to detect the relief emanating from Missouri State’s dugout Saturday afternoon when Bears pinch runner Matt Dezort raced home from third to score with two outs in the ninth to break up Wichita State senior Cale Elam’s shutout.
The sacrifice fly by Dezort’s teammate, Spencer Johnson, had little effect on the Shockers’ 5-1 victory at Eck Stadium. If anything, it highlighted the different levels in which the top two teams in the Missouri Valley preseason poll are operating at the moment.
Elam came within one out of his second career shutout, striking out a season-high eight to improve to 4-0. Meanwhile, Missouri State lost its ninth consecutive game, and its offense finally ended a surreal scoreless streak at 58 2/3 innings.
“That’s baseball,” said WSU first baseman Casey Gillaspie, who had two hits and four RBIs. “It’s going to happen. It’s unfortunate and kind of how the game is sometimes.”
Any empathy the Shockers might feel for the Bears wasn’t evident in their performance. After WSU’s A.J. Ladwig pitched seven strong innings in a 5-0 victory in Friday’s series opener, Elam threatened to deal Missouri State its sixth consecutive shutout. He limited the Bears to three hits through seven innings, then escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth after Missouri State strung together three two-out singles.
“I didn’t notice anything really different about them,” Elam said. “They’re well-coached, so they’re not going to be overanxious and swing at anything. They probably were pressing a little bit, especially that inning where they got the bases loaded.”
But the Bears couldn’t mask all of their frustration. Center fielder Tate Matheny, whose home run in the fourth inning of a March 11 loss at Southeast Missouri State preceded the start of the offensive drought, looked skyward after WSU shortstop Erik Harbutz snagged his hard-hit line drive to end the top of the third. Bears coach Keith Guttin voiced his displeasure with a called third strike and received a warning from home plate umpire Matt Anderson.
Wichita State (14-7, 2-0 MVC) backed Elam with enough offense to compound Missouri State’s trouble. Leadoff batter Tanner Dearman had two hits and scored twice, and stole bases on consecutive pitches ahead of Gillaspie’s two-run double in the sixth. Center fielder Micah Green went 3 for 4 and scored on Gillaspie’s bases-loaded walk in the fourth.
“We need to have better production from the bottom of the order to get back to the top,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “Tanner is really coming on and doing a good job in the leadoff, which I knew he would.
“He’s the igniter to the offense. When he gets on, we have a chance to roll.”
Elam extended Missouri State’s offensive woes by retiring Eric Cheray on a grounder to first to end the eighth. He went out for the ninth, trying to duplicate his shutout over Bradley from last season.
But Bears catcher Matt Fultz sliced Elam’s first pitch of the ninth down the left-field line for a double. After Conor Smith’s flyball to center advanced pinch-runner Dezort to third, Johnson lifted a fly to right that was deep enough to score Missouri State’s first run in 11 days.
Among those witnessing Elam’s performance was his wife, Kelby, who gave birth to the couple’s first child, son Kelby, on March 8.
“It was the first time she’s been able to see me pitch this year, so that was big,” Elam said. “I’m enjoying being a dad, and today was great getting to go that long.”
E — Hawkins, Harbutz. DP — MSU. LOB — MSU 9, WSU 12. 2B — Fultz (7), Green (5), Gillaspie (7). S — Dearman. SF — Gillaspie. SB — Dearman 2 (13).
|Harris L,1-3||5 1/3||7||4||3||5||4||2.32|
|Elam, W,4-0||8 2/3||8||1||1||0||8||1.32|
WP — Harris. HBP — Matheny (by Elam); Parker (by Harris). Umpires — home, Matt Anderson; first, Bret Bruington; third, Greg Harmon. T — 2:20. A — 2,713.