Wichita State Shockers

Lowell hopes to be back in plans before MVC tourney

Pitcher Charlie Lowell's return date is a mystery. He is thinking within two weeks. That may be optimistic.

At least Wichita State possesses a road map for this kind of thing. In 2007, elbow tightness sidelined starter Aaron Shafer in late April. He returned in late May to pitch effectively in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and NCAA play.

Lowell, out since April 4 with forearm tightness, is in a similar situation. Like Shafer, an MRI shows no damage and Lowell will try to work his way back into pitching shape. As with Shafer, the goal with Lowell will be to get him ready for post-season play. The MVC Tournament begins May 25. The easy way to the title is winning four games in five days. The difficult path will require winning six games.

"Aaron did sit out three, four weeks, and then he jumped right back in the middle of it," Kemnitz said. "The doctors say it's nothing major (with Lowell). It's just a matter of him getting comfortable."

Lowell, a sophomore lefty, is gradually increasing his throwing rehab. He threw off a mound last week for the first time since the injury.

"It started out fine, he didn't feel any pain," Kemnitz said. "As he went, it got tight, which I guess is to be expected.

"It seems like it's baby steps."

Lowell says he is confident there is no risk of further injury.

"I'm just trying to get my shoulder back in shape," he said. "It's not going to hurt me anymore to throw through it."

Lowell, who went 2-2 with a 4.56 ERA in six starts, wants to pitch again with two weeks. Kemnitz is encouraged by Lowell's desire.

"I think that's a little optimistic, but I'm glad his brain is there," Kemnitz said.

Kemnitz said Lowell's mechanics haven't suffered during the layoff. That's another good sign. Shafer made his return with a starting assignment against Creighton in the MVC Tournament with a limit of five innings and 65 pitches. Shafer threw 56 in five innings to help the Shockers to a 2-1 win in an elimination game.

Kemnitz isn't sure how Lowell's return will unfold. He will know more Monday when he gets a report on Lowell's weekend throwing results.

"It's not realistic to think we're going to jump right back where we were," Kemnitz said. "It would be 30, 40, 50 pitches and then build from there."

Up, up up — WSU endured some high-profile problems with pop-ups in recent games.

Most notably, a lack of communication cost the Shockers two runs late in the game during a 7-4 loss to Kansas State.

The Shockers are working on it. Third baseman Erik Harbutz put those lessons to use during Friday's game when he chased down a windblown pop-up in foul territory before making a tumbling catch. The ball started out over the pitcher's mound and it appeared either the second baseman or first baseman would make the play.

Harbutz and catcher Cody Lassley were ready when it blew toward them.

"We had a practice pretty much dedicated to taking (batting practice) on the field and pop-fly communication," Harbutz said. "I just tried to stick with the play. (Coach Jim Thomas) was telling us before the game we've really got to pay attention to the ball and not call it too early."

Those glaring mistakes have overshadowed a solid stretch of defense. After Friday's errorless game, WSU had committed 13 errors in its past 14 games, six of those error-free.

So long, Southern _ Two years ago, Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery thought he grabbed two future MVC stars as part of a great recruiting class in 2008.

Guard Kevin Dillard was Mr. Illinois Basketball as a senior at Flossmoor High. Rivals.com ranked forward Anthony Booker, of St. Louis, as its No. 29 senior nationally after the summer of 2007.

Now both are out, and Saluki fans wonder where their program is headed.

The school granted them releases last week after disappointing sophomore seasons. The Salukis went 15-15. Dillard's shooting percentages dropped from his MVC Freshman of the Year season. Booker averaged 16.9 minutes and never consistently cracked the starting lineup.

"We didn't ask those guys to leave," Lowery said in a news conference. "You never want kids to leave, but you also want to play the way we've played, and to play the way we've won."

Their departures continue a trend that dropped SIU from MVC power to near the bottom. Torres Roundtree and Ryan Hare, also members of that 2008 recruiting class, are no longer Salukis. Neither are Nick Evans, Joshua Bone and several others who flamed out early for a variety of reasons.

Lowery, with two non-winning seasons dogging him, made it clear Dillard and Booker didn't buy in to SIU's defensive style. He said all four members of the 2008 class signed before playing their senior seasons — before SIU knew all it needed to about their makeup.

"We can't compromise anymore — that's the No. 1 thing," he said.

SIU has added five players for 2010-11, four from junior colleges.

Pretty in pink — Wichita State baseball administrative assistant Shelley Wombacher is dressing her coaches and players for the May 18 game against Oral Roberts.

The Shockers will wear pink jerseys and the flying W on the caps will be pink. The jerseys will be auctioned during the game as part of the fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen foundation.

And yes, it took some work by Wombacher to convince coaches they look good in pink.