A four-game win streak against good competition doesn’t prove the hard times are over for Wichita State baseball, especially with more strong opponents waiting.
It might mean the Shockers are making progress. It certainly means they are running fewer 30-yard sprints before practice. Every four games, coaches tally free bases allowed by walks, errors, wild pitches, passed balls and other errors. Five gifts a game, or fewer, is the standard. More than 20 in a week means running.
“Five or under, you have a high-percentage chance of winning,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “That’s very clean baseball.”
WSU (18-26, 6-6 Missouri Valley Conference) still has improvement to make, but in three wins over New Mexico and one over Oklahoma, the number of mistakes declined. By Butler’s count, WSU gave away 33 bases in the four games, 13 over the four-game goal of 20, which isn’t good. It is better than most previous four-game sets, many of which result in 20 or more sprints.
“A lot better,” he said. “It’s hard for college teams to stay five and below.”
The Shockers play at No. 14 Missouri State (31-10, 9-3) this weekend and face the Valley’s top pitching staff. WSU’s offense led the way in the four victories with a .350 batting average, 29 runs and four home runs.
“We’re putting at-bats together, especially at the bottom of the order,” second baseman Tanner Kirk said. “Every game, the coaches were preaching that someone new, someone different has to be the guy each and every game. It can’t be the same two or three guys.”
Freshman catcher Gunnar Troutwine hit .462 in the four games, raising his average to .301. Third baseman Chase Rader shrugged off a slump to hit .385 with two doubles. Outfielder Mikel Mucha hit .385 and Kirk contributed three doubles and went 4 for 11.
Those contributions allowed WSU to prosper, even when first baseman Ryan Tinkham went 3 for 15. Tinkham, who did homer twice, right fielder Sam Hilliard and center fielder Daniel Kihle account for 40 percent of WSU’s RBIs and 41 percent of the runs for the season. Over the past four games, they got more help.
That meant Hilliard came up with runners on base often and he made the most of it by continuing his hot streak. He went 10 for 18 in the four games and is hitting .375 over the past 10. Against Oklahoma, he went 4 for 5 with two doubles and a triple.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen is his confidence,” Kihle said. “He truly believes that he can hit anybody. Before that last hit (against OU), he told me and Mucha that if we got on, he was going to hit us in. I haven’t seen that kind of confidence from him at all this year. He told he was hitting us in, and he did.”
WSU won three one-run games and one by two, which could be a reflection of good fortune. It could also show the Shockers are making one or two more winning plays and avoiding a mistake or two. Against New Mexico, Kirk saved several runs with two diving stops at second base. WSU committed three errors in the four games and largely avoided base-running blunders.
“Against OU, we got a couple big hits that we haven’t been getting,” Kihle said.
Kirk’s return helped solidify the infield. As a junior on a roster with 26 newcomers, his experience is invaluable and he can play three positions. He missed three weeks in early April after a pitch that hit him the face broke orbital bones around his eye socket.
“I feel like everyone is starting to get really comfortable,” he said. “A lot of people were trying to be somebody else, instead of just being who they are. We’re finally starting to click at the right time.”
Inspirational figure passes away — The Shockers wear H1 written on their caps, a tribute to Hannah Green Clark, a cancer patient who died Wednesday.
The team adopted Clark as an inspiration and project over the past year.
“Our players really were close to her,” Butler said.
Wichita State at No. 14 Missouri State
When: 6:35 p.m., Friday
Where: Hammons Field, Springfield, Mo.
Records: WSU 18-26, 6-6 MVC; MSU 31-10, 9-3
Pitchers: WSU, RH Isaac Anderson (4-5, 3.81 ERA); MSU, RH Jon Harris (4-1, 2.43)
Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM
TV: Cox 22
Wichita State at No. 14 Missouri State
The series: 6:35 p.m., Friday; 2:05 p.m., Saturday; 1:05 p.m., Sunday
Pitchers: WSU, RH Isaac Anderson (4-5, 3.81 ERA); RH Chase Williams (1-3, 7.28); TBA. MSU, RH Jon Harris (4-1, 2.43); LH Matt Hall (6-2, 2.95); LH Jordan Knutson (3-1, 2.91)
▪ The Bears have won six of seven games, including Tuesday’s 13-8 win over Missouri. MSU swept Missouri for the first time since 2011 in front of a crowd of 6,497, largest at Hammons Field in 11 year. MSU last played an MVC home series the first weekend of April and won two of three games against Dallas Baptist.
▪ Missouri State leads the MVC with a 3.21 ERA and 355 strikeouts. Its on-base percentage of .393 leads the MVC and its 244 strikeouts are the fewest in the conference. Freshman 3B Jake Burger leads the team with a .325 batting average and a .488 slugging percentage. He has three home runs and 14 doubles. CF Tate Matheny is hitting .303 with four home runs, 10 doubles and 10 steals.
▪ The Shockers trailed Oklahoma 6-0 on Tuesday before winning 9-8. It was their first comeback of six or more runs since 2006 when they rallied from an eight-run deficit to defeat Bradley.