Luke Ritter’s walkoff home run to defeat Kansas State on Tuesday night signaled more for Wichita State than a single important victory. It gave the Shockers one more accomplishment they could use as momentum for the meaningful games to come.
WSU (26-26, 9-9 Missouri Valley Conference) concludes its regular season with a high-stakes three-game series at Indiana State beginning Thursday. The Shockers can climb into third place in the conference or fall as far as sixth, and they need two wins to finish with an overall winning record.
WSU has won four of its last five games, the only blemish a 17-inning loss to Evansville last Saturday.
“It’s really important now,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “The games are few, and you have to play well and at a high level and guys have to perform.”
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Ritter’s home run gave WSU its 22nd victory at Eck Stadium, the most in Butler’s four seasons. The Shockers’ road record (4-19) has kept them languishing near .500 for most of the season and prevented them from threatening the conference leaders.
In two conference road series, WSU has combined for two wins – one at Bradley and one at Dallas Baptist. One win won’t get WSU to its goals and could put the Shockers at fourth or fifth in tournament seeding, on the same side of the bracket as 17-0 Missouri State, the host of next week’s Valley tournament.
“That’s as high as we can finish is third, and I think that’s what we want to achieve,” Butler said.
Indiana State represents a challenge beyond WSU’s struggles on the road. The Sycamores have hit 53 home runs, 20 more than WSU, and have the Valley’s fewest strikeouts.
Dane Giesler is among the conference leaders with 15 home runs. The teams are nearly even in batting average (WSU .270, ISU .269) and ERA (ISU 4.80, WSU 4.81).
“They’ve hit some home runs, and we’re playing on the road,” Butler said. “We haven’t been very good on the road, so hopefully we can nip that in the tail and come back by winning the series and going to the conference tournament.”