Wichita State’s baseball team has entered an alternate universe from the one it was floating aimlessly through eight days ago.
Starting with a blowout victory last weekend at Evansville, which snapped an eight-game losing streak and put to rest a string of 43 at-bats without a hit with runners in scoring position, the Shockers are suddenly hitting in the clutch and in every other situation.
WSU notched 14 hits in six innings in an 11-1, seven-inning run-rule victory over Southern Illinois on Sunday at Eck Stadium. WSU earned its first sweep since opening weekend as Daniel Kihle sparked the offense with three hits from the leadoff spot, including a double and a home run.
The Shockers (21-18, 6-6) had seven hits with runners in scoring position on their way to scoring double-digit runs for the third time in the last five games. In that stretch, WSU is 5-0 and has outscored opponents 44-12. The last four games have been played in Wichita after the Shockers spent two weeks on the road.
"I’ve never really seen an 0 for 43 like we went through," WSU coach Todd Butler said. "I’ve seen some bad weekends. It’s like a virus, you have to let it run its course. We tried not to talk too much about it, but you have to address it, then you’re just trying to get it out of your head.
"I think coming back home and being in Wichita, that kind of gave them some comfort and they played very well this weekend."
Kihle, who recently returned from a broken bone in his hand, took the team batting average lead from Casey Gillaspie, who also had three hits, by reaching a qualifying number of at-bats. The sophomore from Andale is batting .405, four points better than Gillaspie.
Sunday, the Shockers fed off both players and the one in between them at the top of the batting order, No. 2 hitter Dayne Parker, who had a pair of singles and an RBI.
The eight hits by those three didn’t create a lopsided lineup, though, because eight of WSU’s nine starters had at least one hit and only Micah Green, who contributed an RBI double and a walk, didn’t score a run.
WSU didn’t rely solely on hitting with runners in scoring position – there were doubles with runners on first base and Kihle’s one-out solo homer in the fourth – nor did the Shockers bash their way to a second run-rule victory in two weekends.
Zair Koeiman legged out an infield single during a three-run third inning, sliding headfirst to beat the throw from shortstop. After the first of SIU’s three relievers exited in the fifth following a single, double and triple, WSU welcomed Lee Weld with a hit batter, two singles and an RBI groundout to go ahead 11-1. Kihle and Gillaspie delivered hits with runners in scoring position.
"We struggled over the nine-game road stretch at getting those timely hits, now I think everyone is starting to get those," Kihle said. "I think everybody is just relaxing finally. We all know we can do it, and now we’ve proved it the last couple games. The weight is coming off our shoulders and we’re able to just swing – not really think, just swing the bat."
The Shockers removed doubt with a five-run fifth after starting pitcher Sam Tewes created some with a shaky bottom of the fourth.
Tewes allowed an unearned run in the first then pitched around either a hit or a walk – or both – in the following three innings. His start became particularly perilous in the fourth, when he issued a one-out walk before allowing a hit and another walk with two outs to load the bases.
Following a stretch in which Tewes had thrown eight of 21 pitches for strikes, SIU leadoff hitter Dyllin Mucha swung at the first pitch and popped lazily to third baseman Chase Simpson. Tewes faced the minimum over the next two innings without issuing a walk, heeding the advice of Butler and pitching coach Brent Kemnitz.
"We were on him a little bit, coach Kemnitz and myself – get ahead, get ahead," Butler said. "But he competes, he still competes. That’s one of the things he still has to overcome right now, is throwing one of the first two pitches for a strike, and I have total confidence in him. He didn’t do that today, but he still gave us a chance to win."