Score: Wichita State 10, Kansas State 3
Records: Kansas State 19-27, Wichita State 28-20
Key statistics: The Shockers recorded two two-out hits in the third to score two runs and four in the sixth to expand their lead to 8-3. Johnny Coy went 5 for 5 to become the first Shocker since Taylor Brown in 2009 with five hits. Relievers T.J. McGreevy and Kyle Bouman held the Wildcats to five hits and no runs over the final five innings.
- Erik Harbutz is 8 for 21 (.381) with six runs in five games (in the past six) as the leadoff hitter. Dayne Parker is 9 for 24 (.375) hitting second the past five games. Over the past six games with one or both at the top of the lineup (they’ve hit 1-2 the past four games), WSU is 5-1 while averaging 7.3 runs and 12.2 hits. Harbutz is on a 13-game hit streak. Parker has hit safely in 13 of his past 15 games, seven of them multi-hit games. With those two battling at the plate, the rest of the lineup is falling in step and the Shockers look like an improved hitting team. They will get a tough test this weekend at Indiana State, but the trend is positive. “Getting a consistent lineup is helping us out,” Parker said. “You know people’s tendencies, what they’re going to to do after you get on. It gives you an idea what’s going to happen.” With those two on base, Don Lambert, Coy and Casey Gillaspie – three of WSU’s most consistent hitters this season – are coming up with runners on base.
- The Shockers are a respectable 5-5 against the top 50 RPI and 9-8 against the top 100. A 9-7 record against teams ranked 101-200 is the killer. Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt has WSU in the NCAA field as an at-large team, a projection that likely stuns Shocker fans. So does SEBaseball.com. Winning the Dallas Baptist series gave the Shockers some cred and pushed their RPI up to No. 54 from No. 69. That sets up a big series this weekend at Indiana State, which is also a top-60 RPI team with at-large aspirations. The winner stays in the conversation. I don’t see this team as at-large worthy, but the Shockers are playing better, and they have time to change minds. It’s a down year for the Big 12, which may open some at-large slots. For what it’s worth, WSU is 5-0 against the Big 12. Its win over Oklahoma State, tied for third in the Big 12, may be helpful.
- Watching WSU’s infield defense has been enjoyable this season. In recent years, WSU tried to get by with playing catchers at third base (Chris O’Brien) and second base (Will Baez). Shortstop Tyler Grimes frustrated coaches and fans by making highlight-reel plays followed by a missing the routine ones. This season, the Shockers are playing infielders at the right spots and it shows. Throughout last season, WSU coaches talked about how much not having Harbutz (out with shoulder surgery) hurt them on the infield. At the time, I didn’t buy it. Harbutz played 40 games as a freshman in 2010, mostly at third, and hit .252. I considered him replaceable. Now I see his value. He plays good defense at third and shortstop and his offense is improving. Last season, WSU was forced to play freshman Tyler Coughenour at third and live with Grimes’ inconsistency at short. Had Harbutz been available, things might have been different and a weakness – infield defense – might have been stronger.
- It ended up as an inconsequential play, but Stephenson made it clear left fielder Micah Green wasn’t to blame for an errant throw that allowed K-State’s Jake Brown to tag at second and get to third in the fifth inning. Harbutz didn’t cover third when third baseman Aaron Rea handled the cutoff throw. Brown scored on a single to cut WSU’s lead to 4-3. “Everybody is mad at Green – I was initially – but then I noticed we didn’t have anybody at third,” Stephenson said. “At that point, the game was on the line.”
- WSU will go with Josh Smith and Kris Gardner to start this weekend. Sunday is TBA, and it’s a tough choice from what I can tell. Nobody has grabbed that spot. My early guess is A.J. Ladwig. Albert Minnis is also a possibility. It may be determined by who is used out of the bullpen on Friday and Saturday.
Next up: at Indiana State, 5:30 p.m. Friday