WSU starter Josh Smith held Creighton to seven hits and two runs over seven innings in Thursday's 7-3 loss.The scores: Creighton 7, WSU 3; WSU 2, Creighton 0; WSU 5, Creighton 1
Key statistics: Shocker pitching held held the Bluejays to one run in the final two games of the series, allowing 17 hits and three walks. Creighton stranded nine runners Saturday, eight in scoring position. WSU DH Johnny Coy went 4 for 5 Saturday with two doubles and 6 for 13 in the series. The Shockers committed one error.
Records: WSU 35-23, 12-9 MVC; CU 22-28, 6-14
As of Saturday night, WSU’s RPI ranks No. 44 (warrennolan.com) and its strength of schedule No. 42 (playing Creighton hurt). The Shockers avoided disaster by winning the series, which I think keeps them in the NCAA at-large picture. I would put the MVC Tournament minimum at two wins to stay in that picture. WSU is in the weaker half of the bracket with Bradley and SIU in the 100-200 RPI range. It would have been better to get a chance to play under-100 Evansville or Illinois State. A win over Missouri State would be very helpful. If WSU is going to lose, it needs to be to the Bears. That helps the RPI and limits the chances of SIU or BU stealing a bid. If WSU can get to at least 37-25, that’s solid. Considering it was 15-13 on March 28 with an RPI in the 60s, WSU did an admirable job climbing out of that hole.In 2006, WSU (44-20) finished third in the MVC, went 1-2 in the MVC Tournament and a No. 45 RPI. It went 7-7 against the top 50 and 16-11 against the top 100. That team won more games (at least one against a non-Division I opponent) and did better against the top 100. This team has a better strength of schedule (No. 91 in 2006). The 2006 team made it easily, according to former Kansas State athletic director Tim Weiser, then a member of the selection committee. Weiser said WSU’s strength of schedule put it in the field with little debate.All season, I’ve regarded WSU’s defense, especially its infield defense, as an important part of the picture and a pleasure to watch after some of the issues in recent seasons. I may have underestimated the importance of WSU’s defense. It may be the single most important component of this team. The offense is inconsistent. The starting pitching didn’t become consistent until Kris Gardner took on a larger role. Then the weekend rotation improved again when A.J. Ladwig regained his spot. Both pitchers rely heavily on their defense. WSU’s starters don’t strike out a lot of batters, and that works because the infielders make all the routine plays and the outfielders cover a lot of ground. WSU entered the weekend with 51 double plays, No. 16 nationally. In three games, all of them close, WSU erased five runners on the bases, including one at home.WSU’s fielding percentage is .975. The Shockers benefit by playing on turf at home. They played their 14th game on grass Saturday, and TD Ameritrade Park’s infield didn’t threaten any bad hops. That doesn’t change the fact .974 would be WSU’s best under coach Gene Stephenson. Five of his teams previously topped .970.WSU OF Mikel Mucha went 0 for 13 during a stretch in March and early April. Since then, he is 16 for 43 (.372). He went 3 for 4 on Saturday and drove in WSU’s first two runs. He also threw out a runner at the plate. Mucha seems to do a nice job of going to the plate with a plan and executing. He took the ball up the middle twice and punched a ball to right field Saturday. “I just told myself to go all opposite field today,” he said. “If you get anything in the air, it’s just going to hang up there. We saw that all week. I was just thinking on the ground, the opposite way.”It will be interesting to see how Stephenson configures his lineup. Nobody seems to want to get on base in front of Johnny Coy, other than Don Lambert, and that’s a crime. WSU’s top two hitters went 4 for 27 in the series. Certainly, it was a tough place to hit and all hit into some bad luck. Regardless, that can’t continue in Springfield. Coy is hot, hitting with power and to all fields, and WSU needs to take advantage.Despite Foster Vielock’s struggles on Thursday, I like WSU’s bullpen entering the MVC Tournament. Vielock, Cale Elam and Albert Minnis all offer swing-and-miss stuff and all can go more than one inning. Pitching coach Brent Kemnitz wants Vielock to return to the feisty mind-set from early in the season. Vielock has thrown 47 1/3 innings this season, a big jump from 11 1/3 as a freshman. Fatigue isn’t the problem, according to Kemnitz. “He needs to get that ‘Me against the world mindset’ back,” Kemnitz said. “That’s what’s made him. He can’t be a guy that’s questioning whether this pitch is working or that pitch is working.”
Next up: vs. Southern Illinois, 4 p.m. Tuesday at Hammons Field