In a win-or-go-home game to end the regular season, the Wichita State baseball team clawed back from an early deficit with a ninth-inning rally to extend its season with a 7-3 victory at South Florida on Saturday afternoon.
WSU and USF entered the series tied at the bottom of the American Athletic Conference standings, with the winner headed to Clearwater, Florida for next week’s conference tournament and the loser’s season coming to an end.
A throwing error by the Bulls allowed WSU to score the game-winning run, then senior Luke Ritter opened up the game with a two-out, bases-clearing double to tack on three more runs and cap a four-run ninth inning for the Shockers.
After going 2-10 in road series this season, the Shockers were able to take 2 of 3 from the Bulls on the road when it mattered most.
“There’s always pressure in every pitch, every game, every series and they handled that pressure today,” manager Todd Butler said. “They could have cracked. They didn’t crack. We ended up beating one of the better closers in our conference and that’s pretty exciting. I’m glad we get to move on.”
WSU improved to 26-29 and finished 9-15 in AAC play, while USF concluded a 26-27 season. The Shockers will face top-seeded East Carolina (42-12, 20-3 AAC) on Tuesday, the first day of the double-elimination tournament. ECU won the series last weekend at Eck Stadium, but WSU did steal a 3-1 victory over the Pirates in Game 2.
“We’re pumped, we’re excited and we’re going to try to take this momentum into the conference tournament,” Ritter said. “We know we can beat them since we’ve already beat them before. That gives us even more confidence. We’re excited to be here.”
The Shockers got off to a nervy start to the decisive game, as freshman starter Connery Peters couldn’t get out of the first inning. WSU trailed 3-0 after four innings.
But WSU’s bullpen came through with another tremendous effort, as the combination of Preston Snavely, Calvin Marley, Alex Segal, Jacob Lindemann and Mitchell Walters threw five scoreless innings to close out the game.
That bought time for WSU’s offense, which finally came alive in the sixth inning when David VanVooren was hit by a pitch, then stole second and came home on a RBI single from Ritter. Senior Mason O’Brien jolted the Shockers back into the game on the very next pitch, hitting a two-run home run to tie the score at 3.
That’s when Jacob Lindemann was inserted into the game and was dominant. He struck out five hitters, including striking out the side in the eighth inning to keep the momentum with the Shockers. Lindemann earned the win.
“I thought Lindemann really salvaged the game for us there at the end,” Butler said. “He pitched extremely well and kept us in it. He had a breaking ball going and a really good fastball. The big key for us was pitching and I’m really proud of our pitching staff this last month.”
Freshman Brady Slavens started the ninth inning off with a walk, then moved to second on a groundout by Ross Cadena. Jack Sigrist walked and Jacob Katzfey singled to load the bases with 1 out.
Butler pinch hit Alex Jackson for VanVooren and the senior grounded to first base, but WSU beat the throw home to score the run. After Jordan Boyer struck out swinging for the second out, Ritter doubled down the left-field line to clear the bases and extend the lead for the Shockers.
“Once the game started, it felt like just another baseball game,” Ritter said. “Once we realized that, we started with some big, timely hits and then our arms in the pen did a great job for us. That was a team win for us.”
Butler once again turned to junior Mitchell Walters to close out the game. After a leadoff walk, Walters sat the Bulls’ down in order to close it out for WSU.
Now the Shockers turn their attention on becoming the underdog in the conference tournament.
“It’s not really about us playing East Carolina, it’s about us playing good baseball and becoming that dangerous, confident, competitive team,” Butler said. “I’ve been on teams that finish eighth in their conference and sneak into their conference tournament and get hot at the right time and make it to a regional.
“I just want these guys to have fun and play as hard as they can and stay on the field. I don’t want to be watching, I want us to be playing.”