Time is running out for the Wichita State baseball team to improve its resume for an at-large berth in an NCAA Regional, which makes this weekend's three-game series starting Friday against Cincinnati all the more important.
After spending much of this season being projected as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the postseason, thanks to a top-20 RPI, WSU suddenly finds itself on the outside-looking-in on the latest NCAA Tournament projections by Baseball America and D1Baseball.com.
The Shockers (28-14) are currently No. 19 in the RPI and own seven top-flight victories, but a 5-10 record in the American Athletic Conference is troubling. While the AAC has moved up to the third-strongest conference in the RPI, WSU manager Todd Butler knows his team has to prove it can win series in conference play.
"We've seen a lot of really good teams, some good bats, some good pitching," Butler said. "Our RPI is really high, so we just have to start winning series now. You never know how it's going to end up."
A late-season push seems to be lined up for WSU with its next nine games at Eck Stadium, where its 19-4 this season, and a final road series at Memphis, which is 15-30.
Cincinnati (22-20, 8-7 AAC) is ahead of WSU in the conference standings but is just 4-11 on the road and has a RPI north of 130. A series win this weekend is almost a necessity for WSU, as is picking up wins in the three remaining mid-week games over Oral Roberts, South Dakota State, and K-State.
That leaves a home series against South Florida (29-15, 11-7 AAC) next weekend that could be crucial. The Shockers will also compete in the AAC tournament in Clearwater, Fla. from May 22-27.
"We've got to make these last 12 games count," WSU junior Luke Ritter said. "We've got seniors on the team we want to keep playing for and we want to do it for ourselves too. We know it's crunch time now and we've got to get some things done."
For an offense that is nearly pumping out seven runs per game this season, WSU's offense averaged just 3.5 runs in its last six conference games -- a road sweep at Houston and a road series loss last weekend at Central Florida.
Junior third base star Alec Bohm feels like the three games in Houston encapsulated WSU's season to this point: a 6-5 loss sandwiched between 3-1 losses.
"When we pitch well, we don't score and when we score well, we don't have the pitching or the defense," Bohm said. "We know we have a great team here, but it's just time to put it all together and start playing complete games. We have to make a run here."
WSU's Codi Heuer (5-4, 4.66 ERA) will go up against Cincinnati's JT Perez (5-3, 2.52) in Friday's opener at 6 p.m., while Tyler Davis (1-0, 2.91) will face Nathan Kroger (1-2, 4.45) in Saturday's 2 p.m. game, and the series finale will be Sunday at 10:30 a.m.