Editor’s note: This story first appeared in The Eagle on April 29, 1981.
Call it a bleeder, a blooper, or a Texas Leaguer.
Still, Phil Stephenson’s fourth-inning single Tuesday afternoon against Oklahoma City in the first game of a doubleheader at Shocker Field accomplished its purpose. It enabled Stephenson, the smooth-hitting Shocker first baseman, to break the NCAA record for consecutive-game hitting streak.
Stephenson’s first-game safety marked the 46th straight game in which he had had at least one hit. He also singled in the second game, raising the streak to 47.
The Shockers won both games, 5-3 and 7-1, running their record to 47-9 behind strong pitching performances by staff stalwarts Don Heinkel and Terry Hayes.
But it was Stephenson’s day.
After rapping into a double play in the first game, he got his next chance when he led off the fourth. Oklahoma City pitcher Randy Tiemann got behind Stephenson 3-1, then grooved one for the Guthrie, Okla., native. Stephenson’s swing was picture perfect. But the ball came off his bat with a thud. No matter, it landed out of the reach of the OC shortstop, left fielder and center fielder.
Stephenson walked in each of his next two appearances. “Some day this streak will stop,” said Stephenson, whose batting mark has dipped to .488 in his tireless pursuit of .500. “And when it does, I’ll just start another one.”
But, will Stephenson’s streak stop? In his last three games he has failed to hit the ball hard. Yet, his streak has one on. A three-game spell without solid connection is a dry spell in itself for Stephenson. “The 3-1 pitch I got today when I got the hit was right there,” he said. “I didn’t quite open up enough. I was just hoping the ball would fall and on the way to first base I saw that it would. I just wanted to make sure I touched first base and didn’t miss it.”
Stephenson has hit safely in 55 of WSU’s 58 games this season. Fortunately, his pursuit of the hitting streak went smoothly. There were no questionable calls and nobody seemed to pitch around him.
What if an opposing pitcher had gotten him out once and then not thrown him strikes?
“If it came to my last at-bat and I still hadn’t gotten the hit,” said Stephenson, “I might have swung at a bad ball just to have another chance. I’m lucky things never came to that.”
Stephenson received a telegram Monday from former Arizona State standout Roger Schmuck, whose 45-game hitting streak record was broken by the Shocker. “It’s really hard to put a value on this record,” said Stephenson. “I’m sure somebody will come along someday and break it. Then I’ll send him a telegram.”
Heinkel, a junior, who raised his record to 11-2 in the opener, allowed only six hits and didn’t walk a batter. All three Oklahoma City runs were unearned, thanks to three WSU errors. Hayes, now 12-1, had a shutout until the eighth inning of the nightcap. Then Oklahoma City’s Tim Ankeny lifted a fly ball to Shocker right fielder Joe Carter with two outs. Carter lost the ball in the sun, didn’t catch it and watched it roll to the fence. Ankeny wound up on third, from where he scored on an infield hit by Mark Andrus.
“If it hadn’t been for our fielding in the first game and the sun in the second,” said Shocker coach Gene Stephenson, Phil’s older brother, “we’d have had two shutouts.”
WSU’s hitting stars Tuesday were Carter and Jim Thomas. Carter had three hits in the opener and two more in the nightcap while Thomas had three hits on the day, including a homer in the second game. Carter, who has broken out of a slump recently, has had 9 hits in his last 13 at-bats to raise his average to .421.
The Shockers meet Big Eight toughie Oklahoma State tonight at 7:30 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The Cowboys are 36-14 overall and 6-6 in the Big Eight.