Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson is back on turf watch.
This fall, AstroTurf crews worked late nights to put down their GameDay Grass at Eck Stadium in time for practice. This week, expect the same indoors at the Bombardier Learjet Practice Facility next to Eck Stadium.
A crew started putting down the turf Saturday morning. They hope to finish mid-week to allow another crew to put down the sand and rubber infill.
The goal is to finish in time for WSU to run its first winter camp on Dec. 20. Stephenson is excited for the campers who will be the first to use the building.
He is just as excited for his players, who will filter back to campus in early January to start working out in climate-controlled comfort. The 29,000 square foot building will make cold-weather practices warm, dry and efficient.
Other than the turf and decorative touches, the facility is almost complete. Two batting cages and a pitching cage hang from the roof. An observation platform stands behind home plate. The dugouts on each side of the infield are ready. Three portable mounds give the pitchers their places to work. New pitching machines are on order.
Two of the cages will hang in foul territory on either side of the infield. The third is beyond the infield, meaning a lot of Shockers can practice. It's a coach's dream for station work.
"At the same time, you could have two hitting cages going, pitchers workout going and live infield work with a full infield," Stephenson said.
It wouldn't be Shocker baseball without plenty of tributes to its history. A display honoring the College World Series teams will brighten up the observation platform. Banners for each All-American will hang on the tarps surrounding the turf. Shocker major-leaguers will have their place as an inspiration to current players and a lure to recruits.
"It's going to be a fantastic place to see, in addition to playing," Stephenson said.
WSU plans to hold an open house in January.
* Sophomore catcher Ryan Hege will miss the 2010 season, Stephenson said. Hege, a transfer from Cowley College, will have surgery Wednesday to remove a cyst on his right arm and repair a frayed rotator cuff.
"The very best prognosis is six months," Stephenson said. "If they get in there and it's worse, it could be nine-to-12 months."
No harm — It seems as if Wichita State's men's basketball team is regularly riding the edge of big foul problems.
Last week's game against UMKC, when guard Clevin Hannah picked up three in the first half, is the latest example. However, the Shockers aren't fouling much more than last season — 19.4 a game compared to 18.1 after nine games. Coach Gregg Marshall isn't concerned. He's got a team that is deep enough to play aggressive defense for 40 minutes and absorb a few fouls.
"The referees, just going by history, are probably a little more strict early on," he said. "Every game is different, and you've just got to try to teach them to play without fouling."
On the flip side, WSU is winning the free-throw battle after a slow start. In its first four games, opponents shot 14 more free throws than WSU. In the next five, WSU shot 17 more. After nine games, WSU was 137 of 184 from the line; opponents were 123 of 181.
Last season, opponents shot 69 more free throws than WSU and outscored the Shockers by 56 points.
Hit the books — Exam week means a light schedule for the Shockers before one of the biggest games to come to Koch Arena in years. They will take two days off this week before Saturday's game against No. 23 Texas Tech.
"We coach these guys to make sure that they understand they've got to compete in the class room," Marshall said. "It's a late-game situation in the classroom. Some of them are having to full-court press. Some of them are having to play keep-away and keep the lead that they've got and make a couple free throws at the end."
The Red Raiders (9-0) defeated TCU 80-70 on Tuesday in their last game before coming to Koch Arena. They are off to their best start since the 1929-30 team went 12-0.
Tech will be the first ranked team to come to Wichita since the Shockers defeated No. 12 Creighton on Feb. 15, 2003 in the Kansas Coliseum. It is the first ranked team to play on WSU's campus since a 71-48 loss to No. 21 Mississippi on Dec. 13, 1997.
Gold champions — WSU's Gold team won the track and field intrasquad meet on Friday at the Heskett Center.
Gold finished with 123.5 points, followed by the Alumni team (122), White (112.5) and Black (110).
Gold's Dylan Hartnett won the 300-meter dash and Jake Stecklein won the 600. Samantha Hallman and Kristina Taylor placed first and second in the women's 300. Tyler Simmons won the long jump.
White's Audacia Moore won the women's 60-meter dash with a time of 7.53 seconds.
Worth noting — WSU sophomore walk-on Mason Felter could be eligible for the Texas Tech game on Saturday, Marshall said, depending on exams. Felter was academically ineligible for the first semester.... Wednesday's game at UMKC marked the third meeting of a four-game series. The Kangaroos return to Wichita next season. Keep LSU on your calendar for next season, as well. The game remains scheduled for 2010-2011 at a neutral site, likely Shreverport, La. That game will finish a three-game series that began in 2006-07. WSU won the first two meetings, one on each campus.