Wichita State plays good baseball at home and poorly on the road. How it performs in a neutral-site game will be decided Wednesday in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
“Winning on the road … it’s a big maturity thing,” WSU sophomore pitcher Codi Heuer said. “It’s always in the back of our minds how we’ve had such as good record at home and struggled away. We know we’ve got to step up.”
The fifth-seeded Shockers (27-28) play fourth-seeded Southern Illinois (27-28) at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo. WSU went 0-2 last season in the MVC Tournament and it will need its pitching staff to improve to avoid a similar fate this week.
WSU went 22-7 at Eck Stadium this season, 5-21 in road games.
“It’s been mind-boggling,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “On the road, one piece of the game always falls short. Part of the road woes was being mainly a freshman-sophomore-type team in the field.”
Most often, it’s pitching that hurt the Shockers. WSU exited a late March series against Texas Tech hitting .235 with an ERA of 4.34. In the 31 games since, the Shockers hit .294 with 29 home runs. The ERA slumped to 5.23.
Once again, injuries bit into WSU’s pitching depth.
Willie Schwanke, the opening-day starter, made one appearance since March due to a recurrence of the back injury that cost him most of the previous two seasons. He now serves as WSU’s designated hitter. Cody Tyler, who started five MVC games, is out with an elbow injury.
That put a burden on senior Zach Lewis as the team’s most experienced starter. He responded with a strong season and earned All-MVC honors on Tuesday. He threw seven shutout innings in a 7-0 win over SIU in early April.
Heuer will make his third start of the season on Thursday against either top-seeded Missouri State or eighth-seeded Illinois State. Should the Shockers survive to a third game, sophomore Robby Evans is scheduled for his fourth start of the season.
Both spent most of the season coming out of the bullpen. Last weekend, both produced career-long outings during the series at Indiana State. Heuer held the Sycamores to four hits and one run in six innings during a 5-2 win. Evans limited Indiana State to four hits and three runs over five innings in a 5-3 loss.
“Evans pitched extremely well for five innings,” Butler said. “He threw three pitches for a strike and kept Indiana State off-balance. He’s got enough stuff to give us a good start.”
Heuer developed his change-up and slider to give himself a chance to get through the lineup multiple times as a starter. In his nine appearances, one start, against MVC teams he has a 2.84 ERA with 18 strikeouts and six walks.
“He’s gone from throw 88-91 (mph) his freshman year to 92-96,” Butler said. “The longer he stayed in the game, his secondary pitches really became effective.”
The slider, Heuer said, has been the key pitch to extending his innings.
“Over the last month I really started throwing it more and got more comfortable with it,” he said. “I’m really getting over it, timing-wise, so it breaks tighter and harder.”
No. 5 Wichita State vs. No. 4 Southern Illinois
- When: 4 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: Hammons Field, Springfield, Mo.
- Records: WSU 27-28, SIU 27-28
- Pitchers: WSU, RH Zach Lewis (4-4, 3.23 ERA); SIU, RH Chad Whitmer (6-3, 3.67)
- Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM
- Video: ESPN3.com
At Hammons Field, Springfield, Mo.
No. 6 Evansville (17-37) vs. No. 3 Indiana St. (27-24), 9 a.m.
No. 7 Bradley (20-29) vs. No. 2 Dallas Baptist (36-19), 12:30 p.m.
No. 5 Wichita St. (27-28) vs. No. 4 Southern Illinois (27-28), 4 p.m.
No. 8 Illinois St. (13-38) vs. No. 1 Missouri St. (37-15), 7:30 p.m.
Evansville-Ind. St. loser vs. BU-DBU loser, 9 a.m.
WSU-SIU loser vs. Ill. St.-MSU loser, 12:30 p.m.
Evansville-Ind. St. winner vs. BU-DBU winner, 4 p.m.
WSU-SIU winner vs. Ill. St.-MSU winner, 7:30 p.m.
All games on ESPN3.com