Wichita State Shockers

Sam Hilliard’s home run rallies Wichita State past Illinois State

Wichita State coach Todd Butler rejoices as Sam Hilliard rounds third base after hitting a three-run homer in the eighth inning that helped the Shockers beat Illinois State 4-3 during the MVC Tournament on Wednesday at Eck Stadium.
Wichita State coach Todd Butler rejoices as Sam Hilliard rounds third base after hitting a three-run homer in the eighth inning that helped the Shockers beat Illinois State 4-3 during the MVC Tournament on Wednesday at Eck Stadium. The Wichita Eagle

One thought ruled the bottom of the eighth inning for Wichita State, one thought to beat back the horror of falling behind by two runs in the top of the inning.

Get Sam Hilliard to the plate.

“He’s like the hottest hitter in the nation,” centerfielder Daniel Kihle said. “He’s crushing balls.”

The fourth-seeded Shockers needed at least two runners to reach base to bring Hilliard up. With two outs and two strikes, No. 9 hitter Trey Vickers threw his bat at a breaking pitch and poked it to right field. Kihle walked after he watched a 3-2 fastball fire wide, the last pitch thrown by Illinois State starter Jacob Hendren.

Get Sam Hilliard to the plate.

Hilliard blasted a first-pitch fastball from lefty reliever Jack Czeszewski over the right-field fence to give WSU a 4-3 lead, smacking his fourth home run in four games. That held up when closer John Hayes retired the fifth-seeded Redbirds on nine pitches in the ninth and the Shockers won their opening game in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Wednesday at Eck Stadium.

The Shockers (25-31) face top-seeded Missouri State at 7:30 p.m., Thursday with a 10-game winning streak at home on the line. Illinois State (27-26) faces eighth-seeded Southern Illinois at 12:30 p.m. in an elimination game. The Redbirds played without All-MVC utility player Paul DeJong, who has missed two games with a hand injury.

WSU starter Isaac Anderson set up the eighth-inning drama with his best performance of the season. He struck out a season-high 11 and didn’t walk a batter in the longest outing by a WSU starter this season. Coach Todd Butler didn’t second-guess himself for leaving Anderson in to face Ryan Koziol with two on and two out in the top of the eighth in a 1-all game.

“He pitched so well,” Butler said. “It’s his game.”

Koziol singled up the middle to give the Redbirds a 3-1 lead. In the bottom of the inning, Hendren got two outs before facing Vickers, who started the rally by protecting the plate on a 1-2 pitch that found a hole in between the first and second basemen.

“I knew if I got on base, we had a chance to score,” Vickers said.

Kihle, rung up on a 3-2 pitch in the fourth, made his patience pay off with a walk. When he got to first, he said he told coach Mike Sirianni he expected Hilliard to nuke the first pitch. Butler and assistant coach Brian Walker reminded Hilliard of an at-bat against Czeszewski in the regular season and Hilliard went to school on that scouting report.

“Usually, lefties come in throwing off-speed stuff,” Hilliard said. “I was sitting on a fastball because I faced that guy before and he started me off with a fastball. I knew what he had. He gave me a fastball right where I wanted it.”

Hayes struck out the first hitters in the ninth, six pitches total, and produced a groundout on an 0-2 pitch to end the game. Hilliard, who extended his hitting streak to 11 games, ran to center to chest-bump Kihle. When the Shockers gathered in front of the third-base dugout, they tipped their caps to the small group of fans who braved the 55-degree temperatures to cheer for a below-.500 team.

“We’re thanking the crowd for sticking with us all season, in a rough season,” Hilliard said. “We told them we’re not done yet.”

Now all Hilliard has to do for an encore is pitch against MVC Pitcher of the Year Jon Harris, the Missouri State right-hander who struck out 11 Shockers in an 8-3 victory on May 1.

WSU tied the game 1-all in the fifth with Mikel Mucha’s one-out double the starter. He scored from second when Jordan Farris grounded ball toward first and first baseman Mason Snyder, on the move toward the base, let the ball scoot past his glove.

The Redbirds took a 1-0 lead in the first inning. A passed ball off Troutwine’s glove moved Daniel Dwyer to second and allowed him to score on Snyder’s two-out single.

Worth noting — WSU won its tournament opener for the first time since 2011 … MSU swept the season series, winning 8-3, 9-1 and 3-2. Bears pitchers struck out 35 batters and allowed four extra base hits … Hilliard is the first Shocker to homer in four straight games since Preston Springer in 2011. Jeff Ryan homered in five straight in 1998 … WSU’s 10-game home win streak is the longest since the 2008 team won 18 in a row … The Shockers improved to 10-5 vs. Illinois State in the tournament. They haven’t played MSU in the tournament since 2012, a 7-0 loss at Hammons Field in an elimination game.

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

Illinois State

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

AVG

Dwyer lf

4

2

2

0

0

0

.298

Jar.Hendren dh

4

0

0

0

0

1

.287

Koziol 3b

4

0

1

2

0

1

.294

Snyder 1b

4

0

2

1

0

1

.306

Kelch 2b

4

0

0

0

0

2

.348

Beesley cf

4

0

1

0

0

3

.243

Leverett rf

4

0

0

0

0

3

.220

Colon ss

3

0

0

0

0

1

.218

Ramirez c

3

1

1

0

0

1

.258

Totals

34

3

7

3

0

13

Wichita State

Kihle cf

3

1

0

0

1

1

.300

Hilliard rf

4

1

1

3

0

2

.335

Tinkham 1b

4

0

1

0

0

1

.328

Troutwine c

3

0

1

0

0

0

.279

Arens c

0

0

0

0

0

0

.257

Rader dh

3

0

1

0

0

1

.246

Mucha lf

3

1

1

0

0

0

.298

Farris 3b

3

0

1

0

0

1

.239

Kirk 2b

3

0

0

0

0

1

.240

Vickers ss

3

1

1

0

0

0

.264

Totals

29

4

7

3

1

7

Illinois State

100

000

020

3

Wichita State

000

010

03x

4

E — Snyder. DP — Illinois St. 2. LOB — Illinois St. 4, WSU 2. 2B — Mucha (7). 3B — Tinkham (1). HR — Hilliard (8). CS — Rader (5).

Illinois State

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Jac.Hendren

7 2/3

6

0

0

1

7

2.80

Czeszewski L,1-3

1/3

1

1

1

0

0

5.40

Wichita State

Anderson W,5-7

8

7

3

2

0

11

3.94

Hayes S,4

1

0

0

0

0

2

2.85

PB — Troutwine. Umpires — home, Tim Catton; first, Wayne Harris, second, Rick Allen; third, Jim Jackson. T — 2:21. A — not available.

No. 8 Missouri State at Wichita State

When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday

Records: MSU 42-10, WSU 25-31

Pitchers: MSU, RH Jon Harris ( 6-1, 2.08 ERA); WSU, LH Sam Hilliard (1-3, 6.09)

Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM

Online: ESPN3.com

Related stories from Wichita Eagle

  Comments