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Weekend review: Bradley at Wichita State

Micah Green started WSU's sixth-inning rally on Friday with a leadoff single.The scores: WSU 7, BU 1; WSU 1 BU 0 (10); WSU 7, BU 6

Records: BU 25-22-1, 8-13 MVC; WSU 32-22, 10-8

Key statistics: WSU held the Braves to a .186 batting average and allowed six earned runs in three games. In the first two games, Bradley hit .143 with one extra-base hit and two walks. WSU SS Erik Harbutz drove in the winning run in the Saturday and Sunday games.

Odd series for many reasons, not the least of which is that WSU pounded out 16 hits on Friday, 11 against Joe Bircher, the MVC’s strikeout leader and a pitcher who beat Missouri State and pitched well against Indiana State. Then WSU’s offense struggled mightily on Saturday and Sunday against inferior pitchers. Harbutz and Dayne Parker, the top two hitters in the order, cooled off at Indiana State the previous weekend and their struggles continued against Bradley. Harbutz and Parker got WSU’s offense rolling when coach Gene Stephenson moved them to the top of the order in late April. They are two of WSU’s most experienced hitters, so it makes sense they are suited to get on base in front of the middle of the order. When they do it, WSU’s offense is in good shape. Against Bradley, they combined to go 4 for 27.WSU hit .286 for the weekend and the better news is that the Shockers struck out 16 times. When we’ve seen this offense really go in the tank when hitters start striking out and can’t pull out of the slump. WSU did put balls in play, not always with great swings, and it paid off in the end.I’m not sure who WSU’s MVP is. Johnny Coy, the most consistent run-producer? Probably. Josh Smith, the Friday night starter? I know who I would vote for as the Most Pivotal Player – pitcher Kris Gardner. If he doesn’t come up big this season, the Shockers are in major trouble. Gardner, a redshirt freshman, is 4-1, but WSU is 9-2 in games he started. His move to the weekend rotation kept WSU afloat in the MVC. He doesn’t get rattled. He doesn’t walk batters. He rarely gives batters fat pitches to hit. He’s been a savior after Mitch Mormann and Albert Minnis couldn’t hold their spots in the weekend rotation.WSU is very much in the hunt to finish second in the MVC, and that could matter. Its RPI, according to warrennolan.com, is No. 42, one spot behind Indiana State and four ahead of Missouri State. The MVC is ranked No. 6 among conferences, so getting two or three teams in the NCAA regional isn’t out of the question. Finishing ahead of MSU in the RPI and the conference standings could be an important chip for the Shockers.WSU’s at-large case is hard for me to figure, because of its overall record. But the Shockers have a chance. They are 16-17 against the top 100, which is helpful, and their strength of schedule ranks No. 33, which is very helpful. Right now, they profile more like an SEC or Big 12 team that battled through a tough schedule and doesn’t own an eye-popping record. There is work to do this week, all of it on the road, but WSU has given itself a chance. The MVC ranks ahead of conferences such as the WCC and the Big West. If a third-place team, with an RPI in the 40s, from one of those conference earned an at-large bid, would it seem strange? Probably not, because of their reputation. Perhaps WSU’s case is stronger than it seems.3B Josh Halbert hit .571 over the weekend (4 for 7 with three RBI) and I would expect him to get more playing time. WSU wants Tyler Baker to catch – he started all three games over the weekend – and that opens up third. Aaron Rea is an outfielder trying to play third, so Halbert may be the best option. That puts pressure on the rest of the lineup, at least until Halbert proves he is better than his .196 batting average suggests over the long haul. Baker is hitting .184, and it’s going to be hard to make a run with a lineup with two sub-.200 hitters. Casey Gillaspie went 6 for 11 (.545). Don Lambert (.364), Micah Green (.364) and Coy (.333) also hit well. Coy also homered twice, which is a good sign for a guy battling a sore hamstring.

Next up:  at Nebraska, 6:35 p.m. Tuesday

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