Wichita State pitcher Cale Elam, a magnet for baseballs in recent starts, escaped unharmed in Saturday’s 7-0 win over Bradley. The best way to avoid attracting line drives is to keep hitters from hitting the ball.
“It feels good not to get hit,” he said.
Elam allowed two hits in eight innings and didn’t allow a runner to reach third base. The Braves rarely got good swings against his sinking fastball and slider and spent those eight innings working from behind in the count.
“(Elam) didn’t make any mistakes,” Bradley coach Elvis Dominguez said. “He didn’t make one pitch above the knees. The guy on the mound dictated everything.”
WSU (24-23, 8-6 Missouri Valley Conference) defeated Bradley (21-22, 4-13) for the 32nd straight time at Eck Stadium. Elam cruised through six innings before the offense rose up with six runs in the seventh to give WSU its first back-to-back victories since a five-game streak on April 20. Casey Gillaspie homered twice, from both sides of the plate, and saved a run in the sixth inning by snagging a groundball and flipping to Elam for the third out.
“I love playing defense behind him,” Gillaspie said. “It’s good to score him some runs.”
And it was good see him walk off the mound healthy. A week ago, a Tulane hitter smacked a ball off Elam’s left ankle, forcing him to exit. On April 5, a line drive at Indiana State targeted his elbow. Elam, who struck out six and walked two, said his left ankle is a little tender.
“It felt good all the way throughout the game,” he said. “It didn’t really even come to mind.”
Elam faced the minimum through four innings, helped by catcher Tyler Baker throwing out Chris Godinez at second in the second. He walked Greg Partyka to open the fifth, but struck out Godinez, who failed to get a bunt down, and ended the inning with a groundball and pop-up. In the sixth, Isaac Smith walked with one out and stole second. Elam struck out Max Murphy and Gillaspie ranged to his right to grab a well-struck ball by Spencer Gaa. Elam hustled to first to take the toss and end the inning.
“Pretty low stress,” Elam said. “Plus, I had really good defense.”
The Shockers helped him out with plenty of runs for a change. The Shockers averaged three runs in Elam’s previous five starts.
Gillaspie homered to right-center in the first, off right-hander Steve Adkins, for a 1-0 lead. He hit a three-run shot to left, in the seventh, off lefty David Koll, for his 12th of the season.
WSU didn’t even need that home run. The bottom of the order got things started in the seventh.
Dayne Parker’s one-out walk and Zair Koeiman’s single set the stage for the big inning. With one out, Dominquez kept his infield at double-play depth with No. 9 hitter Tanner Dearman up. Then a wild pitch moved Koeiman to second and forced the infield in.
Bradley reliever Eric Scheuermann got up on Dearman 1-2, which brought Dominguez to the mound. He called on right-hander Andy Johnson, looking for a strikeout. Instead, Dearman dumped a base hit on a 2-2 count into shallow right-field.
“If they weren’t in, that ball wouldn’t have fallen,” Dearman said.
Dominguez went to Johnson, who had thrown six innings this season, with the belief he could get Dearman with a slider.
“I went for the strikeout,” he said. “If we would have gotten that strikeout there, it would have set the tone for the whole game. It’s worked for us the majority of the year.”
Dearman stole second and moved to third on Daniel Kihle’s infield single. Garrett Bayliff’s bunt wasn’t placed well enough to sneak Dearman in, but all the movement on the bases distracted Koll, who threw over first baseman Elliot Ashbeck to bring in both runners for a 5-0 lead.
“That opened the floodgates,” Dominguez said.
Gillaspie followed by smashing Koll’s first pitch over the left-field wall.