Wichita State Shockers

WSU baseball heads to South Florida with spot in AAC Tournament on the line

WSU baseball coach Todd Butler previews 2019 season

The Wichita State baseball season begins this weekend in Phoenix. WSU coach Todd Butler helps preview how the 2019 season is looking for the Shockers.
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The Wichita State baseball season begins this weekend in Phoenix. WSU coach Todd Butler helps preview how the 2019 season is looking for the Shockers.

The Wichita State baseball team is playing to extend its season starting Thursday in the final American Athletic Conference series at South Florida.

Since WSU (24-28) and USF (25-5) are both 7-14 and tied for eighth place in the nine-team conference standings, that means the winner of the series will play next week in the conference tournament in Clearwater, Florida and the loser will have an early end to the season.

Those are the stakes for the series with games at 6 p.m. Central time Thursday, 5:30 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday.

“It’s pretty evident what the stakes are,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “We know what we need to do. We’ll see if our guys can play well on the road, see if they can pitch well, defend well again and see if we can get the bats going.

“We know what we have to do, now it’s their job to go out, be accountable and help us win from starting pitching to the relievers to the defense to timely hitting.”

The Shockers have pulled out of their mid-season swoon and have played markedly better the last two weeks. That only translated to one win in series at Connecticut and against No. 8 East Carolina and a pair of mid-week road wins at Missouri State and Oral Roberts, but the improvement in pitching has been encouraging.

The staff earned-run average was at 5.82 before that eight-game stretch, but during those eight games the Shockers have used 13 different pitchers and maintained a staff ERA of 3.52. Aaron Haase (one earned run in 6 1/3 innings), Alex Segal (four scoreless innings) and Preston Snavely (3 1/3 scoreless innings) have been key bullpen arms during the stretch.

“Our pitching staff has certainly improved from where we started,” Butler said. “Offensively, we were really good for almost three-quarters of the season and then we ran into left-handed pitching that was really good in our conference. This team has definitely improved defensively after a horrid start.”

The biggest reason for WSU’s pitching turnaround has been senior starter Clayton McGinness, who has registered three straight quality starts. After two tough-luck losses (one earned run in seven innings at Cincinnati and two earned runs in seven innings at Connecticut), McGinness threw the best game of his career last weekend, a complete-game masterpiece to knock off No. 8 East Carolina in a 3-1 win.

With the season essentially on the line, Butler will hand the ball over one more time to McGinness.

“Clayton has been the big key for us with how well he’s thrown the last three times he’s picked up the ball,” Butler said. “He’s been really good for us and we need him to be really good for us Thursday. We’ll put him in the 1-hole and see if we can play well Thursday and get a head-start in the series.”

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