Wichita State freshman Taylor Sanagorski isn’t sure how many baseball games he lost in three varsity seasons at Bishop Carroll. He guesses maybe 10.
Ten is the right answer. College is a different story.
Like most Wichita State players, Sanagorski is losing games at a rate foreign to him. The Shockers (17-26) struck a blow for learning how to deal with failure and prosper with a weekend sweep of New Mexico. After losing six games by two or fewer runs in the previous three weeks, WSU swept the Lobos, winning two games by one run and one by two.
“They haven’t stopped playing, they haven’t stopped competing,” WSU assistant coach Brian Walker said. “It’s nice to see them be rewarded for their hard work.”
The Shockers will try continue their revival against Oklahoma (29-18) on Tuesday at Eck Stadium. Several freshmen helped the Shockers over the weekend and their continued growth is crucial for WSU to finish strong over the season’s final month.
“It’s nice to finally be able to put together three games in a row of all three facets of the game,” Sanagorski said. “It has been a struggle, but that’s where we’re trying to change it and we’re trying to get hot at the right time of year.”
Sanagorski and fellow freshmen Gunnar Troutwine and Trey Vickers are part of WSU’s plan over the next month and over the next two or three seasons. Sanagorski, as the designated hitter, hit his first home run in Friday’s win. Troutwine went 5 for 12 (.455) in three games at catcher and DH over the weekend to raise his batting average to .296. Vickers is 9 for 25 (.360) in his past eight games as shortstop.
“With the losing and everything, you’ve got to handle adversity,” Vickers said. “It’s a long season and that’s a big difference from high school. Fifty-six is a little different from 20. That’s where the coaches come in to play. They’ve really had our backs, telling us every day to continue to get better and take what you learn and apply it.”
Vickers, from Lee’s Summit, Mo., had more to overcome than most. A shoulder injury cut his senior season short at Rockhurst (Mo.) and sidelined him all summer. He got healthy in time to start fall practice at WSU, then a stress fracture in his L5 vertabra flared up after his first at-bat in the first scrimmage. That ended his fall practice. All that idle time dropped Vickers’ weight around 15 pounds, down to 178. He started lifting weights in February.
“I’ve been shut down for about a year,” Vickers said. “My body, right now, isn’t very strong. I’m just continuing to do some maintenance (with weights) and not let it get any worse.”
As the back injury fades, Vickers’ quickness, strength and range of motion are improving. He isn’t back to his old form, but recent weeks show he is getting closer. He compensates on defense with a quick release to replace velocity lost.
“It’s been a struggle for him the last 365 days,” Walker said. “He’s starting to show signs of what we all know that he’s capable of doing. Until he can put that strength back on, it’s going to be difficult for him to really start driving balls and really throw the ball across the diamond like he’s capable.”
Troutwine, from Shawnee Mission East, became a regular in the lineup in mid-March and started at catcher in seven of the past nine games. He settled into the fifth spot in the batting order and his 20 RBIs, in 22 games, rank fifth on the team. He homered twice against Illinois State on April 11 and while he doesn’t have an extra-base hit since, coaches see him as a future power source. Walker sees Troutwine taking on a larger role behind the plate in recent games and being more vocal with pitchers on the mound and in the dugout.
“I’m getting my mind ready for the end of the season,” Troutwine said. “As a freshman group, we don’t want to settle for mediocrity. We want to prove we can play. It’s good to experience that now, so we’re not waiting for those opportunities down the road.”
Sanagorski is trying to revive his offensive abilities with a change in his swing that appeared to pay off over the weekend. He hit two balls hard, batting left-handed, over the weekend that were caught. Batting right-handed, he homered on Friday.
“All I’m looking to do is make hard contact,” he said. “The fact I made hard contact is all I can ask for. The rest is baseball.”
Sanagorski and Walker are working to remove an upper-cut from his swing, one that produced too many flyballs and strikeouts.
“We’ve been trying to figure out a way to get me to swing down on the ball and create better backspin,” Sanagorski said. “It’s nice to see we’re getting the fruits of our labor. I was getting under a lot of balls. I would swing under balls and have no shot to compete with breaking balls or fastballs up.”
Brown to throw out first pitch — Tuesday’s baseball game will mark the 10-year anniversary of one of WSU’s most famous plays.
On April 26, 2005, outfielder Matt Brown dove over the right-field wall to catch a foul ball, landing on his back and popping up with the ball in his glove to show the umpires. The catch earned him a trip to the ESPY Awards show and a spot atop ESPN’s top plays.
He will throw out the first pitch on Tuesday and sign autographs.
OU coach hospitalized Saturday — Sooners coach Pete Hughes missed Sunday’s game Sam Houston State due to chest pains.
Hughes went to the hospital after Saturday’s game and stayed overnight for observation, according to the Daily Oklahoman. Hughes, the report said, had a heart attack in 2012 while coaching at Virginia Tech.
Hughes will travel to WSU and coach in Tuesday’s game.
Oklahoma at Wichita State
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday
Where: Eck Stadium
Records: OU 29-18, WSU 17-26
Pitchers: OU, RH Corey Copping (4-0, 2.57); WSU, RH Tyler Jones (1-3, 7.86)
Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM