TERRE HAUTE, Ind. —With only three home conference series, Wichita State must play well on the road if it wants to win the Missouri Valley Conference title.
That pursuit is seriously off track after Saturday's 5-4 loss to Indiana State at Warn Field. Second-place WSU (21-13, 7-4 MVC) lost the series to the third-place Sycamores (23-9, 5-3) and lost its fourth straight game. The Shockers are 5-11 on the road and play seven of their remaining 10 conference games away from Eck Stadium. WSU came to Terre Haute with a chance to bury the Sycamores in the standings and make it a two-team race with Illinois State. Instead, the Shockers are chasing first-place Illinois State and not far ahead of the middle pack.
"There's no right thing to say right now," WSU first baseman Preston Springer said, accurately summing up the frustrated looks and bad moods in the dugout.
Saturday's frustrations started with WSU taking a 4-1 lead into the sixth inning, with starter Tim Kelley in control.
"In the first five innings, he dominated us," Indiana State coach Rick Heller said. "We didn't change. We finally started to do what we talked about at the beginning of the game."
That plan called for the Sycamores to ignore Kelley's slider, a pitch he often uses to get bad swings and strikeouts. Heller wanted his hitters to crowd the plate and take away the edges of the strike zone that Kelley works with precision.
Kelley helped with control problems. He hit leadoff batter Ryan Strausborger in the sixth and Kyle Burnam singled. He walked two batters, forcing in a run.
"Two walks in a row — that really hurt," Kelley said.
A sacrifice fly cut WSU's lead to 4-3.
In the seventh, Jeremy Lucas' leadoff double started the Sycamores on their way to a two-run inning and a 5-4 lead.
"They did a good job of making their adjustments," Kelley said. "They shortened up, not trying to do too much with the ball. Almost like a two-strike approach."
WSU did snap its streak of scoreless inning at 25 with Cody Lassley's fourth-inning home run. The Shockers, however, couldn't push wobbly Indiana State starter Joe Rodriguez over the edge. He gave up eight hits and walked five. He survived by striking out 10.
Heller described Rodriguez as effectively wild, often getting ahead in the count and tempting the Shockers into swinging at off-speed pitches for strikeouts.
"We did not adjust to how he was pitching us," WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. "He got a lot of strikeouts because of that. I don't know how to make it clearer to players than we do."
Not every Shocker struggled.
Lassley hit his first home run since March 28 and singled twice to drive in three runs. Johnny Coy doubled twice and walked. Tyler Grimes walked twice and drove a ball with a runner on third in the eighth that took centerfielder Strausborger to the warning track on a run.
Not enough teammates joined in, as has been the case lately. The Shockers are hitting .169 during their four-game skid with 43 strikeouts.
"We've got to make a change," Springer said. "We're not clicking on all cylinders, and it's going to be a struggle. Obviously that's what it's been the last three or four games."