Wichita State returns home for 13 of next 17

04/14/2014 3:58 PM

04/15/2014 7:07 AM

It falls to Brent Kemnitz to hand out the history lessons, now that he is the remaining Wichita State coach with 36 seasons to draw upon.

He has a story for WSU being 3-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference and pitching a freshman on Sundays, believe it or not.

And it applies. To a point. It is up to the Shockers to see how far they can take it. In 2006, WSU started the MVC schedule 3-6, losing the first two games of three series before freshman pitcher Aaron Shafer won on three Sundays to avert disaster.

“I told them that,” Kemnitz, WSU’s pitching coach, said Sunday after a 13-3 win over Evansville. Eight years later, WSU is 3-6 and freshman Sam Tewes won Sunday’s game with 6 1/3 solid innings. He isn’t having the season Shafer did, but performed close enough on Sunday to remind Kemnitz.

The 2006 Shockers rebounded to go 15-9 and finish third in the MVC and earn an at-large bid to an NCAA regional, a season that wasn’t viewed favorably at the time. These Shockers (17-18) are in a deeper hole, but the message is obvious: A rally is possible, even after an eight-game losing streak.

“We don’t like where we’re at,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “I know this: It might look like we’re in despair, but good things can still happen with this club. I believe this.”

The 2014 Shockers shouldn’t believe everything is fixed after Sunday’s win. They are hitting .240 in MVC play, first baseman Casey Gillaspie is the only hitter who scares the opposition and starter Cale Elam struggled through three innings on Saturday, perhaps because of the after-effects of a line drive off his right elbow in his previous start. Other injuries, of course, remain an issue.

A lot needs to happen for the Shockers to recover and they can start with Tuesday’s game against Oral Roberts (19-16) at Eck Stadium. WSU is home for the first time since beating Cal State Fullerton on March 30. Offensively, a bad weekend at Evansville ended with some cause for optimism.

Catcher Tyler Baker, who missed five games with a concussion, went 5 for 10 on the weekend. Garrett Bayliff has played eight straight games since a pulled left hamstring cost him two games. He hit just .250 in the series, but doubled twice and has two multi-hit games in the past four, his first since March 19.

WSU coaches know the offense needs Baker and Bayliff to push their averages toward .300 and give the team threats beyond Gillaspie. Baker, hitting .248, hit .328 in 2013. Bayliff, hitting .278, finished second in the MVC at .379 last season.

“(Baker’s) been working on trying to simplify everything, but more importantly simplify himself and believe in himself,” assistant coach Brian Walker said. “He falls in line with rest of them, but especially him, in trying to do too much.”

Bayliff said the hamstring doesn’t bother him while batting.

“It’s definitely not 100 percent,” he said. “Running is the only time it bothers me. Hopefully, if I can go long enough without tweaking it, it will kind of go away.”

The Shockers play four straight and 13 of their next 17 at home with a chance to dig out from the painful road trip. They are part of a three-way tie for last in the eight-team MVC. Third-place Indiana State already has five conference losses. A sweep of Southern Illinois, also 3-6, could dramatically move WSU up in the standings.

“It’s always nice to play at home,” Bayliff said. “You’re going to have to win on the road if you want to do well and we didn’t really pass the test this time.”

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