OMAHA — During the regular season, the job of long relief gets lost in the daily grind, with starters and closers grabbing most of the attention.
The spotlight can find those anonymous arms quickly in a tournament, when a reliever can save the season by rescuing a starter and preserving the bullpen for the next day. Wichita State is unbeaten in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and two wins away from the title after Wednesday's 7-3 win over Indiana State. Reliever T.J. McGreevy stepped out of the bullpen with four scoreless innings at cold and rainy TD Ameritrade Park.
"I felt like I came in and it was my job to end the game," McGreevy said. "We're going to need everyone in our bullpen and we need everybody fresh."
The second-seeded Shockers (38-24) play at 4 p.m., today, weather permitting, in the championship of Bracket A. They face the winner of today's 9 a.m. Indiana State-Illinois State elimination game. A WSU win puts it in Saturday's championship game. A loss means the two teams play again at 12:30 p.m., Friday.
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WSU won its seventh straight game by holding the sixth-seeded Sycamores (27-27) to one run after the first inning. The Shockers benefited from five Indiana State errors and nine walks. Catcher Chris O'Brien drove in two runs without a hit. Then he blasted a two-run home run in the eighth inning to extend his hitting streak to 26 games.
"The pitching and defense has been phenomenal," WSU centerfielder Kevin Hall said. "In the end, guys are having fun and they realize that this is the time of year we're going to have to come out and play, because our season depends on it."
Indiana State picked a horrible time to turn in its worst defensive performance. The Sycamores entered the tournament tied for ninth nationally with a .978 fielding percentage. They had not committed more than three errors all season, and hadn't done that since March 13.
Add in seven walks in 4 1/3 innings by starter Sean Manaea, and coach Rick Heller didn't recognize the mess.
"We didn't deserve to win," he said. "I don't think we've made five errors in the last month. We played terrible."
WSU starter Brian Flynn gave the Sycamores hope, which added to Heller's frustration. Indiana State took a 2-0 lead in the first inning, courtesy of Flynn's inability to find the strike zone, especially with his breaking pitches. He hit two batters and walked one. Jon Hedges drove in a run with a single and Lucas Hileman made it 2-0 with a fielder's choice scoring Robby Ort.
But Flynn improved, gradually commanding his pitches well enough to get by. He gave up another run in the fifth, cutting WSU's lead to 4-3, before handing the game to McGreevy.
McGreevy, a sophomore right-hander, mowed down the Sycamores with no fuss starting in the sixth. He gave up two hits and walked one, but no runner reached second base. He helped himself by picking off Koby Kraemer to end the sixth inning. His changeup baffled the Sycamores and he used that to set up everything else and keep them swinging weakly.
"He was throwing a changeup that had them off balance," WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. "He came in in a situation where the game could go either way, and really did a whale of a job."
The Shockers, down 2-1, scored three runs in the fifth when Indiana State's defense collapsed. The Sycamores committed two errors after a leadoff walk to Tyler Grimes started the inning. Don Lambert's single drove in a run — the only hit of the inning.
Another error helped WSU take a 5-3 lead in the seventh. O'Brien blasted a home run to right in the eighth off reliever Chris Machado to give McGreevy a four-run cushion.
"I noticed that he threw a lot of breaking balls early in counts," O'Brien said. "I made up my mind I was going to try to sit on a breaking ball. The second pitch, I got it and I made sure I didn't miss it."