It took Wichita State two games and most of the third before it beat TD Ameritrade Park into submission on Saturday. Once the Shockers did, it felt pretty good.
WSU slipped past Creighton 5-1 in the regular-season finale, locking the Shockers into third place in the Missouri Valley Conference and avoiding chilling their NCAA at-large chances with a series loss. Pitching, again, ruled. The hitters got untracked enough to rap out 14 hits, including the first home run of the series, by shortstop Erik Harbutz.
“I was just hoping it was going to get over his head and get me a double and kind of break me out of this,” Harbutz said. “When it got over the fence, it was kind of mind-blowing. The ball hasn’t been carrying.”
Not at all, for either team. WSU (35-23, 12-9 MVC) can leave Omaha feeling better about itself heading into the MVC Tournament. Johnny Coy continued his hot streak, going 4 for 5 with two doubles. Mikel Mucha gave the Shockers an early lead with two RBI singles. Harbutz and Dayne Parker, both slumping, drove in runs in their final at-bats. Those outbursts helped them survive an potentially disastrous second inning in which they totaled four hits, one a double, and scored one run.
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“Althought it might not have been the prettiest thing, I thought we did a better job competing,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. “Our defense and pitching held up.”
Creighton (22-28, 6-14) stranded nine runners, eight in scoring position.
“We swung the bats pretty well, except when we got guys in scoring position,” Bluejays coach Ed Servais said. “When we had runners on base, we just didn’t have quality at-bats. That’s been an issue for us the entire season.”
WSU can credit starter A.J. Ladwig, reliever Albert Minnis and several good defensive plays. WSU made two highlight-reel plays and all the routine ones to record its 21st errorless game this season.
Ladwig worked around seven hits, helped immensely when left fielder Mikel Mucha threw out Chance Ross, representing the go-ahead run, at the plate in the fifth inning to short-circuit a Bluejay rally.. Creighton recorded four hits in the inning, but only scored once, thanks to Mucha’s accurate throw when Ross tried to score from second on a single by Nick Judkins.
“It was easier than it looked,” Mucha said. “It wasn’t too hard of a throw.”
Servais, with his team struggling to score runs, didn’t regret the gamble with the scored tied 1-all.
“Chance is the fastest guy we have on the club,” he said. “We took a chance there and it didn’t work out. If we’re going to fail, it’s going to be aggressively.”
Minnis allowed four hits in 4 2/3 innings and struck out three. Catcher Tyler Baker helped him by picking off Brennan Murphy at second after a failed bunt attempt in the seventh.
Murphy, with WSU leading 2-1, led off with a single. He moved to second on a balk, after Ross bounced into what appeared to be a double play. Instead, umpires told Stephenson that Minnis didn’t come set, putting Murphy at second with no outs and the top of the order coming up.
“We knew they were bunting,” Minnis said. “I got it low and he bunted through the ball, and Baker threw a strike to second base. For a catcher to bail you out of a situation like that is big time.”
Coy performed the unusual and unfortunate role of table-setter by leading off an inning three times. He singled in the second and scored on Mucha’s single. He singled in the fourth. He doubled in the sixth and again Mucha drove him in. In the eighth, Coy doubled with one out and scored on Parker’s single. He missed his third five-hit game of the month by striking out in the ninth, but went 6 for 13 in the series and is 18 for 43 (.419) in his career against Creighton.
“He’s not chasing too many bad pitches,” Stephenson said. “And when you do that, he’s going to be a pretty good hitter all the time.”
Harbutz capped the day with his two-run home run to right field to give WSU a 5-1 lead in the top of the ninth inning.