A 4-5 conference record doesn't seem to indicate a league title contender, but the Wichita State baseball team remains just 1 1/2 games out of the American Athletic Conference lead.
The Shockers (26-9, 4-5 AAC) will get a crack at one of the conference leaders in Houston (22-15, 7-5 AAC) during a three-game series starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday. WSU will throw Codi Heuer (5-2, 4.93 ERA) on Friday and Liam Eddy (6-2, 3.08 ERA) on Saturday.
"The goal is to win the series, get two out of three, that's what you're shooting for," WSU manager Todd Butler said. "We've only won one out of three a couple of times now, so we've got to do a better job."
The AAC's RPI is rated as the fourth-strongest in the country, in large part because of depth. East Carolina (7), Connecticut (9), WSU (13), and South Florida (26) all have strong RPIs, while the top eight teams in the league are only separated by 1 1/2 games.
"That just goes to show you that nobody is going to run away with this thing," WSU junior Greyson Jenista said. "The top team in the league isn't that much better than the sixth-place team in the league."
Winning a conference series on the road, something the program hasn't done since 2015, is necessary to take the next step to establishing WSU as a legitimate contender for the AAC title.
After winning just 20.5 percent of road games the past three seasons, the Shockers have posted a 7-5 road record this season, including wins over Creighton, East Carolina, and Oklahoma State.
"Coach Butler really wants us to get on a run and start stringing together a lot of wins in a row," WSU senior catcher Gunnar Troutwine said. "We've got to carry over this momentum into Game 1 at Houston and go from there."
WSU enters as one of the hottest hitting teams in the conference, as Alec Bohm (.353), Troutwine (.327), Greyson Jenista (.320), Trey Vickers (.313), and Luke Ritter (.310) are all batting above .300 this season. They will be put to the test by Houston's pitching staff, which has the third-best staff ERA in conference.
While Houston sits atop the conference, its RPI is 116 and it recently lost two out of three at Tulane.
"Houston really throws it well, so it's going to be a big test for us," Butler said. "But it's going to be a lot of fun to go down there and compete with them. I'm looking forward to it."
Another key will be WSU's fielding, which has struggled in AAC play. The Shockers have committed 19 errors in nine games compared to 20 in 26 non-conference games. WSU's fielding percentage of .943 ranks last in conference play.
"We've slipped up the last few weekends, but we're focused on defending better now," Jenista said. "We've just got to keep this rolling. When our shot games, then we need to take it."