Wichita State baseball coach Todd Butler sat in the first row of the bus and greeted the Shockers, most of whom hadn’t seen him since home-plate umpire Jason Stidham ejected him in the first inning.
He high-fived every one. He complimented reliever Foster Vielock on his slider. First baseman Casey Gillaspie thanked Butler for getting thrown out for him and having his back.
“Good job, big hit,” Butler told shortstop Tanner Kirk.
“We’re back on the good side,” he said to pitcher A.J. Ladwig.
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And on it went, with good reason and a lot of smiles.
The Shockers run-ruled Evansville 13-3, in eight innings, to snap an eight-game losing streak and salvage the final game of the series on Sunday. Butler watched most of it from the back of the soccer press box that sits beyond right field at Braun Stadium and missed out on a bunch of mood-enhancing hits from the dugout.
“Everybody was ‘hoo-raahing,’” WSU starter Sam Tewes said. “It was great to get all the guys loose. We had a lot of chatter, a lot of energy in the dugout.”
WSU (17-18, 3-6 Missouri Valley Conference) hadn’t won since March 30, also the last time it led in a game. It hadn’t scored first since March 25 in a loss to Nebraska. Micah Green took care of the lead with a two-out double in the fourth inning, putting WSU up 1-0.
The Shockers added seven runs in the fifth, keyed by Garrett Bayliff’s two-run double and Kirk’s three-run double, to go up 8-0 and signal an end to a brutal road trip. WSU lost the first eight games of the trip and spent all 70 innings tied or behind, mostly behind. On Saturday, the Aces (22-12, 4-2) put themselves in position to sweep WSU for the first time with a 13-2 run-rule win.
“It’s been a struggle in every facet of the game,” WSU assistant coach Brian Walker said. “We’re upset. They’re upset. It was good to see them come out and enjoy the game and be able to put up some runs.”
Several Shockers broke out their bats on Sunday and WSU scored its most runs since March 19 without a hit from Gillaspie, who ended a 20-game hitting streak. Bayliff drove in three runs with two hits. Catcher Tyler Baker went 3 for 5 and scored twice. Third baseman Chase Simpson hit a grand slam in the eighth inning to invoke the run rule. Kirk drove in three runs.
“We wanted to have the biggest inning and score first, and we did both of those,” Bayliff said. “We were having fun and … the last eight games, it was hard to have fun.”
The fourth started with two easy outs for Evansville starter Connor Strain, who retired Gillaspie and Bayliff on three pitches. Then the Shockers came up with the two-out hits that eluded them during the losing streak. Baker singled on an 0-2 pitch. Simpson walked. Green drove in Baker with his double. Stain often got ahead of batters but, unlike Evansville first two starters, couldn’t finish off the at-bat and the Shockers took advantage.
“It was a big weight off our back,” Tewes said. “When you score runs, it’s contagious. Everybody gets in a good mood.”
That was merely a warmup for the next inning.
Kirk started the seven-running inning with a leadoff single and came around again to contribute a three-run double that made it 8-0. Dayne Parker started the scoring with a single to left to bring in Kirk and chase Strain. After reliever Brent Jurceka walked Gillaspie, Bayliff doubled to left to drive in two runs for a 4-0 lead.
A two-out walk by Simpson, a single by Green and a walk by Cody Bobbit, which drove in a run, brought up Kirk with a chance to give the Shockers their best feeling since March. He jumped on the first pitch and deposited it a few feet fair in left field to give WSU an eight-run edge.
“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Kirk said. “He wasn’t throwing many strikes to the hitters in front of me.”
Tewes held the Aces scoreless until the seventh inning, when he surrendered a two-run home run and an RBI double. Vielock ended that threat and pitched a perfect eighth to get the Shockers started on their bus ride a little early. Butler was packed and ready to go, waiting on the first row of the bus.
“It’s been a struggle,” he said. “They showed something today.”