Wichita State leaves on a season-ending road trip Wednesday that will either add depth to a frustrating season or provide a measure of relief.
First losing season since 1970?
Looking more likely with the Shockers .500 and facing a minimum five-game road trip.
First team since 1970 to fall short of 30 wins?
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Worst Missouri Valley Conference finish since 1984?
Also in play after WSU fell 6-4 to Dallas Baptist on Sunday at windy Eck Stadium to stumble into a tie for fourth place. The Shockers lost a series at home for the first time this season by failing to punish Patriots starter Cory Taylor for six walks and allowing a fly ball to drop in left field.
The Shockers (26-26, 10-8 MVC) play at Illinois State, its partner in fourth and coming off a disastrous weekend at Evansville, before going to Terre Haute, Ind., for the double-elimination MVC Tournament beginning May 20.
WSU finished 6-17 in 1970, its final season before the school dropped the program for seven years. It finished 30-27 in 2009, sitting at 24-24 on May 6, before finishing strong. The Shockers need a similar effort to avoid the first losing season since former coach Gene Stephenson revived the program in 1978.
“You don’t want to be that team,” senior shortstop Dayne Parker said.
The 2009 Shockers rallied with seven straight games at home and won the MVC Tournament. No such luxuries exist on the schedule this season in the new MVC world where the tournament travels to other sites.
“It’s going to be hard to finish over .500,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “That’s where we are right now. That’s what we’ve been all season.”
Dallas Baptist (33-18, 11-7) won the final two games of the series and preserved its resume for an NCAA at-large berth. The Patriots, in their first season as a baseball-only member of the MVC, rank No. 36 in the RPI.
“It was a must-win game for us,” Dallas Baptist coach Dan Heefner said. “We had to win this series.”
Butler continued to say almost every inning provided a microcosm of the season. The Shockers went 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base. The Shockers struck out nine times with a runner in scoring position.
“Dallas Baptist has legit pitching,” Butler said. “They threw a lot of sliders.”
These scenes should sound familiar.
Garrett Bayliff doubled with one out in the second and didn’t move. First and third with no outs in the third produced nothing after a double play erased Casey Gillaspie at the plate and Zair Koeiman struck out. In the fourth, Micah Green walked and stole second with one out and stayed there.
Patriots reliever Joseph Shaw cleaned up for Taylor in the sixth, taking over with one out and the bases loaded. He struck out Koeiman and left fielder Justin Wall saved at least two runs with a diving catch to rob Bayliff and end the inning.
WSU made its last gasp in the seventh when it cut the lead to 6-4 on Chase Simpson’s two-run home run off Shaw. Tyler Baker and Bayliff followed with singles and Heefner went to closer Brandon Koch. The Patriots sniffed out a double steal on Koch’s first pitch to Green and catcher Daniel Salters threw out Baker at third. Koch finished off Green in three pitches.
In the ninth, Daniel Kihle’s one-out double and a two-out walk by Gillaspie provided some drama. Koch ended it quickly by striking out Simpson on a series of sliders and yelled in his direction. Simpson stared at him in return.
The Shockers gave up five unearned runs on Saturday in an 8-2 loss. Sunday’s third inning echoed those issues.
WSU starter Sam Tewes gave up two two-out singles before he got cleanup hitter Austin Listi to loft a fly ball to shallow left field. Green, playing deep in left field, broke late and missed the ball by several feet on a dive. Two runners scored and the Patriots took a 2-1 lead. David Martinelli then smoked a double past Gillaspie to drive in Listi for a 3-1 lead.
“That ball was in the air, I thought, for a long time,” Butler said.
The flag-straightening wind blowing out to left carried the ball over Parker.
“It was kind of tough — high sky — and I couldn’t hear anybody helping,” Green said. “The wind did carry it out, but not quite as far as I needed.”
Dallas Baptist added two more runs in the fifth after a one-out single by Mike Wesolowski. He scored on Daniel Salters’ triple off the center-field wall. Salters scored on a single by Listi. Wesolowski singled in Drew Turbin in the sixth for a 6-2 lead.