Wichita State senior Ryan Jones loves to hit with runners in scoring position. Southern Illinois pitcher Lee Weld is a freshman, so nobody knows much about him.
The edge in that situation figured to go to Jones. Weld, however, excelled with the unexpected. That provides Sunday's theme to SIU's 9-5 win over WSU at Eck Stadium. Saluki pitchers, when their defense didn't betray them, kept the Shockers guessing incorrectly and ended WSU's six-game win streak.
SIU (16-16, 5-4 Missouri Valley Conference) salvaged the final game of the three-game series by rallying from deficits of 3-0 and 5-4. The WSU (21-10, 7-2) bullpen surrendered five runs and seven hits in the final four innings.
"We should have won today," WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. "I'm disappointed about a lot of things."
The bullpen struggles come as no surprise. WSU, however, scored 18 runs in the first two games of the series. Its inability to cash in good scoring opportunities in the late innings Sunday was a switch. Trailing, WSU put four runners in scoring position — all with less than two outs — and didn't score any of them.
The problems started in the seventh, with SIU up 7-5. WSU's Will Baez doubled to start the inning and moved to third on a groundball out. Jones hits .413 with runners in scoring position and .714 with a runner on third and less than two outs. Cleanup hitter Preston Springer, up next, hits .415 with runners in scoring position.
It looked like rally time.
Instead, Jones struck out swinging and Springer grounded out to end the inning.
Weld, down 2-0 to Jones, went away from the fastball to keep Jones off balance.
"I worked ahead in the count, and he threw me a pitch that I hadn't seen," Jones said. "I got 2-1 and I'm thinking he might come back
with a fastball. He threw me one of the best changeups he's ever thrown. Then he threw me another slider, low and in. It's probably the best two pitches he's thrown in
That trend continued.
In the eighth, Travis Bennett led off with a walk. Weld struck out Cody Lassley looking. Chris O'Brien doubled to move Bennett to third with one out. Weld struck out pinch-hitter Erik Harbutz looking and got pinch-hitter Johnny Coy to ground out. In the ninth, SIU closer Bryant George hit the first two batters — he can reach 97 mph with his fastball — and then struck out Jones and Springer looking. Bennett grounded out to end the game.
"We got to the later innings and the zone expanded on us," Jones said. "It caught us off guard. Once it expanded, what we didn't do was adjust to what's called. That's our problem."
With the bullpen a mess, all the burden fell on the WSU hitters. Starter Josh Smith gave up seven hits and four runs in five innings. He walked two batters in the fourth and hit a batter in the fifth before giving up a three-run homer to Chris Serritella. After 78 pitches, Stephenson thought it best to let the bullpen take over with a 5-4 lead to start the sixth inning.
"He had not commanded anything in the last 15, 20, 30 pitches," Stephenson said. "We have to feel like our guys can come in and stop them. We've got to be able to pitch."
Stephenson saved freshman T. J. McGreevy for a start on Tuesday at Nebraska.
"If I had it to do over again... I would have probably pitched T.J McGreevy in the sixth inning," he said. "But we felt confident in the guys we put out there. We just didn't get it done."
Reliever Grant Muncrief gave up two hits and a walk. Logan Hoch replaced him to fall behind Serritella 2-0 and watch a two-run double bounce off the wall in center.
"He got behind me 2-0, and with the bases loaded he's got to come after me with a fastball," Serritella said.
SIU added solo home runs off Chance Sossamon in the eighth and Remington Johnson in the ninth.
"It's definitely good to get out of here with a win — we've got a long bus ride ahead of us," Serritella said.