Wichita State’s first goal for tonight’s game at Nebraska must be to break a 27-inning scoreless streak in Lincoln. The Shockers need to score a run for the first time since 2004 before they can move on to bigger things.
“It’s not been a pleasant experience for a long time,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said.
Not in the least. WSU visits Nebraska every other year and lost its last four trips, the last three by shutout. In an 11-0 loss in 2006 and a 14-0 loss in 2010, the Shockers weren’t competitive. In between, Nebraska won 3-0 in 2008 in a matchup of top-10 teams. WSU last scored a run in the ninth inning of a 7-4 loss in 2004 and last won in 2002.
That history probably matters little to the few Shockers who played in 2010. Their minds should be on this crucial week in Nebraska. Tonight’s game and a three-game series at Creighton will help set WSU’s NCAA at-large resume entering the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The Shockers have won four straight and seven of 10. With a power ranking (RPI) at No. 42 (at warrennolan.com) their NCAA chances might not rely solely on winning the automatic bid.
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“We’ve got every reason to be positive and upbeat and focused and play well,” Stephenson said. “It’s good for momentum. It’s good for the possibility of having a good RPI and finishing strongly.”
Perhaps taking a few Nebraskans on the road trip will help.
Three Shocker freshmen are from the Cornhusker state — outfielder Taylor Doggett, first baseman Casey Gillaspie and pitcher A.J. Ladwig. Doggett is from Lincoln, where he grew up cheering for Husker football and loved watching former Husker Alex Gordon — now with the Kansas City Royals — play third base. Gillaspie and Ladwig are from Omaha. They all played together on the Nebraska Sluggers summer team. For all three, this week is the highlight of the schedule.
“It’s hard finding a lot of tickets,” Ladwig said.
All three are excited to get home and see family and friends. Doggett expects to see between 50-75 of them tonight. Many of his high school buddies will be at the game, their loyalties somewhat divided.
“I’ve gotten phone calls, texts, e-mails all week,” he said. “They said they’ll be wearing red, but in their heart they’ll be cheering for me.”
Nebraska and Creighton recruited Ladwig. Same with Doggett, who crossed Nebraska off his list when the school fired former coach Mike Anderson in May. Gillaspie, however, said he didn’t get significant attention from either. Nebraska didn’t recruit his brother, former WSU third baseman Conor Gillaspie, now with the San Francisco Giants. Perhaps the Huskers considered Casey a lock to follow his brother.
“Even my dad (Mark, an All-American outfielder at Mississippi State), they didn’t recruit him very much out of high school,” he said. “Maybe they just don’t like Gillaspies.”
Casey said that with a grin, so he was joking. At least a little.
“They didn’t really give me much time of day,” he said. “So, I’m just ready to play them and, hopefully, win.”
Doggett committed to WSU first, and he did some recruiting work to help land Ladwig and Gillaspie. WSU doesn’t recruited often in Nebraska, but took advantage of the Huskers’ recent fall from power under Anderson and the coaching change. Nebraska also left the Big 12 for the Big 10, a weaker baseball conference.
All three freshmen are playing significant roles for the Shockers. Ladwig regained a spot in the weekend rotation and will likely start Saturday’s finale at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park. He has allowed four earned runs in his past 18 2/3 innings, which includes scoreless relief outings against Kansas State and Dallas Baptist and starts against Indiana State and Bradley. Gillaspie is hitting .286 with eight home runs. Doggett is hitting .295 with 16 stolen bases.
“It’s an exciting time to go home and see everyone, of course, but also we’ve got to take care of business,” Doggett said. “We’re here to play baseball. Our No. 1 priority is to win.”