NORMAL, Ill. —Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson gathered the Shockers for a huddle after the final out, usually a sign of defeat, disaster and an impending lecture.
Not this time.
Stephenson made the unusual move to tell the Shockers he was proud of them after Sunday's 5-1 win over Illinois State at Bass Field.
"He just told us we played good, and we need to keep it up," sophomore Chris O'Brien said. "And if we keep playing the way we are, then we are very high contenders in this conference."
The Shockers (29-16, 10-5 Missouri Valley Conference) gave Stephenson a lot to be happy about after taking two of three from first-place Illinois State. The Shockers bounced back from Saturday's 18-8 run-rule defeat, won on the road and won after trailing entering the seventh inning against a good bullpen. They stayed in second in the MVC, within striking distance of the Redbirds (21-18, 9-3).
"We did a great job today coming back from (Saturday), when we didn't pitch at all," Stephenson said. "It looked like one of those days when we just weren't going to hit."
Those circumstances didn't get the Shockers down, thanks to resourceful pitching and late-inning clutch hits.
Starter Tim Kelley pitched on the edge of trouble in the early innings. After giving up a run in the third, Kelley settled in. He struck out six in the next four innings and allowed to runners to reach scoring position. Reliever Logan Hoch pitched two scoreless innings, striking out three, two in the ninth, to earn his third save.
"It's been fun the past week," left fielder Bret Bascue said. "It has that different vibe now — we expect to play well now. We know we're going to get a good pitched game. We know we're going to hit well."
Shocker hitters played it backwards on Sunday. They struggled against freshman starter J.D. Learnard, who shaved more than a run off his 6.67 ERA by holding WSU scoreless for 5 1/3 innings. The Shockers rallied against Redbird relievers Ryan Copeland and Kenny Long, an air-tight duo most of the season.
The Shockers trailed 1-0 in the seventh when Ryan Jones started the inning with a walk against Copeland. Bascue, hitting .556 against left-handers, smacked Copeland's second pitch past the left fielder for a double to score Jones from first. Bascue moved to third when Ty Wiesemeyer missed the cutoff man and the ball bounced through the infield.
"He got behind... and he hung a (slider) and I just took a good hack," Bascue said. "I thought the left fielder was going to catch it, but I guess it was just out of his reach."
Illinois State went to Long, a side-arming lefty who leads the MVC with a 1.22 ERA. Stephenson pinch-hit O'Brien, who punched Long's 0-1 slider through the right-side of the drawn-in infield to score Bascue for a 2-1 lead.
"I knew with a base open he was coming to come with a lot of soft stuff," O'Brien said. "I got in the box thinking just stay on it, hit it the other way and get something elevated so I could drive in a run."
O'Brien, who started 21 games at catcher, is new to pinch-hitting this season.
"Even though I haven't been playing the last couple games, we've been playing real well, so I can't let that get to me," he said. "I've always got to be ready. Times like that are when the team needs you the most."
Cody Lassley's two-out single gave WSU a 3-1 lead. Kevin Hall doubled in two runs in the ninth for more cushion.
Sunday's box score
Wichita State ab r h bi avg.
Grimes ss 4 0 0 0 .259
Baez 2b 3 0 0 0 .261
Davidson 2b 1 1 0 0 .320
Springer dh 4 1 2 0 .350
Lassley c 3 0 1 1 .371
Bennett rf 1 0 0 0 .327
McKeever ph 1 0 0 0 .247
Hall cf 2 0 1 2 .258
Coy 1b 5 0 1 0 .329
Jones cf-rf 4 1 0 0 .269
Bascue lf 4 1 1 1 .450
Bayliff lf 0 0 0 0 .233
Harbutz 3b 2 0 1 0 .248
O'Brien ph 1 0 1 1 .295
Goro 3b 1 1 0 0 .288
Totals 36 5 8 5 .297
Illinois State ab r h bi avg.
Tokarski 2b 4 0 2 0 .459
Hinshaw cf 3 0 0 0 .282
Mirabal c 3 0 0 1 .358
Ruffalo dh 3 0 1 0 .319
Court 3b 3 0 1 0 .278
Amrein 1b 4 0 1 0 .261
McNeely rf 4 0 1 0 .296
Wiesemeyer lf 3 0 0 0 .138
Demarco ph 1 0 0 0 .224
Kay ss 3 1 3 0 .286
Totals 31 1 9 1 .292
Wichita State 000 000 302 — 5 Illinois State001 000 000 — 1
E — Wiesemeyer, Kay 2, Long. DP — WSU, Illinois St. LOB — WSU 11, Illinois St. 10. 2B — Hall, Bascue, Harbutz. S — Lassley, Hinshaw. SF — Mirabal. SB — Grimes.
WSU IP H R ER BB SO ERA
Kelley W,7-2 7 7 1 1 2 8 4.92
Hoch S,3 2 2 0 0 0 3 2.13
Illinois St. IP H R ER BB SO ERA
Learnard5 1/3 2 0 0 2 3 5.66
Copeland L,3-5 2/3 1 2 2 1 2 5.46
Long 3 5 3 2 1 4 1.58
WP — Long 2. HBP — Hinshaw, Court (by Kelley); Lassley, Grimes (by Learnard); Ruffalo (by Hoch). Umpires — home, Scott Wyckoff; first, Todd Olinger; third, Ben Harlow. T — 3:01. A — 610.
Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson handled Saturday's 18-8 loss perfectly in the eyes of his players.
He blew it off, not an easy thing to do after getting run-ruled in a crucial series. Stephenson, however, reached a point where his confidence in the team overrode his frustration. The Shockers earned that by winning big against Kansas, Oklahoma State and in Friday's series-opener. Even on Saturday, the Shockers played well for a good chunk of the game.
Instead of turning Saturday's game into a referendum on his team's toughness and desire, he told them to forget it.
"A lot of guys took it positive, because we weren't getting lectured about how we did this wrong or that wrong," WSU sophomore Chris O'Brien said. "He told us games like that happen."
That lightened the mood and set the right tone for Sunday.
"He wanted to stay positive, to know that we've been playing well, and not to panic," senior Bret Bascue said. "He handled it very well."
The reward was a 4-1 week against good competition and a place right on Illinois State's back in the Missouri Valley Conference race.
"That's what we had to do, at least, to survive in the league race," Stephenson said. "I'm thankful we were able to compete as well we did and win."
Freshman second baseman Walker Davidson may have surprised a lot of people when he started a spectacular double play in the eighth.
Not Stephenson, who is used to watching Davidson and shortstop Tyler Grimes play defense.
"Those two guys have great skills," Stephenson said. "I wish that would have been on TV."
With two runners on and one out, Illinois State's Tyler McNeely bounced a ball in front of second base. Davidson charged it and flipped backhand to Grimes, who caught it bare-handed and threw to first to complete the double play and end the inning.
It wasn't the safe play, but it paid off big when they handled it flawlessly. Grimes made it possible by telling Davidson he was ready at the bag to take his throw.
"Instinct, I guess," Davidson said. "He told me he was there."
Grimes was hit by a pitch for the 22nd time this season, extending his record. With 31 for his career, he is four from tying Casey Blake's Shocker career record.... WSU starter Tim Kelley recorded a season-high eight strikeouts, giving him 26 in his past five outings. He struck out 22 in his first seven games. Six of seven leadoff batters reached against Kelley.... Illinois State's Ryan Court went 1 for 3, singling, after homering three times on Saturday. Second baseman Kevin Tokarski went 2 for 4 on Sunday and 5 for 10 with five walks in the series. He struck out in the seventh and ninth innings with runners on.... WSU catcher Cody Lassley hit .556 in the series with two doubles. He was hit by pitches three times. DH Preston Springer hit .538 with five RBI. He went 2 for 4 on Sunday but came up with nobody on three times and didn't drive in a run for the first time in five games.
_ Paul Suellentrop