Wichita State Shockers

WSU relying on defense

OMAHA — Wichita State's defense took a lot of criticism during much of the season.

Now it's time to give it credit. The Shockers cut out the bumbling that hurt them too often. It's no coincidence they're winning more often.

"We're not beating ourselves," second baseman Walker Davidson said. "Early in the year, you could count on way more than two hands how many games we lost because of defense."

The Shockers are fielding .973 over their past 10 games, up from the season percentage of .961 that ranks fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference. WSU hasn't committed more than one error in eight straight games and in those eight games, the Shockers turned nine double plays. WSUs infielders are working on a streak of five straight games without an error

"It's just about bearing down here at the end of the season," shortstop Tyler Grimes said. "It's a matter of going back to the fundamentals and taking your time and making sure you get the out."

Grimes' solid play is the most noticeable improvement in recent weeks. Since committing his 27th and 28th errors of the season against Creighton on May 8, Grimes is playing clean. He hasn't committed an error in eight straight games, while continuing to make the highlight-reel plays with his quickness and strong arm.

"He's begun to relax a little more and not try to play so fast," WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. "In the past, he was trying to play too quick."

Better aces — Evansville gets to open the tournament against the MVC's Pitcher of the Year, WSU lefty Charlie Lowell.

When the teams met in mid-April, Lowell was just starting his dominant run in conference play. He struck out eight and held the Aces to six hits and no earned runs in an 11-1 victory in eight innings.

"It begins and ends with Charlie Lowell," Evansville coach Wes Carroll said. "We know they're going to be strong on the mound. On top of that, they expect to win. They turn into a different level."

Carroll was pondering his choice to pitch. Senior Cody Fick (7-3, 2.38 ERA) is a possibility. He did not throw in the final regular-season series against Illinois State so he could rest and be ready for the tournament. Fick, who also plays third base, usually throws the last day of a weekend series.

"We've been building ourselves for this tournament," Carroll said. "He's used to having six days off, so we wanted to have him fresh. We wanted to prepare ourselves to have everybody fresh and ready to go."

If Fick doesn't start, Evansville will likely go with Kyle Lloyd (4-5, 4.31 ERA). Both are right-handers.

Safe at home _ The MVC Tournament rarely leaves Eck Stadium. The last time it did, things worked out for Creighton.

Top-seeded Creighton, hosting for the first time since 1978, will try to win its first tournament since 2007, when it defeated WSU in Springfield, Mo.

TD Ameritrade Park is new to everybody, but the Bluejays are no longer in awe of the surroundings.

"You could sense this weekend when we played a very good Missouri State team that our kids were very comfortable," Creighton coach Ed Servais said. "It's starting to feel more and more like home."

Servais said the park fits Creighton's emphasis on bunts, moving runners, pitching and defense.

"This field plays a lot different," he said. "The gaps are different. Straight-away center is different. You're going to have to change your style a little bit. You're going to have to be creative in how you score runs. The fact we've now played 11 or 12 games here I think gives us a little bit of an advantage."

The Bluejays went 7-2 against the MVC teams in their side of the bracket, all at home.

"We're glad we're out of the bracket of Wichita State and Illinois State, to be honest," Servais said. "We like our situation."

Red hot _ The hottest team in the MVC is third-seeded Illinois State, the defending tournament champion. The Redbirds enter the week on a six-game win streak.

Illinois State coach Mark Kingston moved second baseman Kevin Tokarski from the leadoff spot to the No. 3 spot in the batting order. In those nine games, the Redbirds are 8-1. Chad Hinshaw took over the leadoff duties.

Tokarski isn't sure why that helped.

"Wherever he hits me, I'm just going to try to do my best," he said. "It doesn't make any difference to me, but maybe it does to some of the other guys."

Weather eye — Missouri State players and coaches watched reports of the tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., on Sunday in Omaha.

Outfielder Barrett Noirfalise is from Joplin, located 75 miles from Springfield. Infielder Patrick Drake is from Webb City, a suburb of Joplin.

"As far as we know, everybody who is connected with us is OK," coach Keith Guttin said.

Notes — WSU owns 17 tournament titles, most of any MVC school. The No. 1 seed owns 14 titles, with the No. 2 seed with nine.... Bradley pitcher Joe Bircher is a native of Omaha and will start against Creighton tonight.... Illinois State will try to repeat at tournament champion. WSU is the last team to repeat, winning in 2008 and 2009.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle