The scores: ISU 1, WSU 0 (10 innings); ISU 6, WSU 3; WSU 8, ISU 2
The records: WSU 29-22, 7-8 MVC; ISU 36-12, 10-5
Key statistics: Sycamores pitching held WSU to a .189 batting average and a .274 slugging percentage. WSU’s top four hitters went 1 for 27 in the first two games of the series.
- It is shocking to see WSU below .500 in the MVC so late in the season. The 2009 team, which finished 11-7 in the MVC, never dropped below .500, and it missed two games with last-place Bradley and one with seventh-place Northern Iowa to rain. I don’t see WSU making a run at second, leaving third as the goal. WSU’s schedule is favorable, with a home series against Bradley (8-10) and a series at last-place Creighton (5-12) remaining. Anything less than 4-2 will be a disappointment in those six games and the Shockers should set their sights on 5-1. WSU also owns the tiebreaker against two of the teams ahead of it, Illinois State and Southern Illinois. WSU’s big test will be against Bradley ace Joe Bircher on Friday. Winning that game and the rest of the MVC schedule gets a little easier.
- The game that is killing WSU is the Friday night loss to Evansville, 4-1 on April 13. Aces starter Cole Isom struck out 11 and allowed three hits in that win. In three starts since, Isom has six strikeouts. He gave up 13 hits and five runs to Dayton, 10 hits and seven runs to Bradley and nine hits and nine runs to Dallas Baptist. That game, and Friday’s loss to Indiana State, should fill the Shockers with regret.
- WSU’s RPI is No. 44 according to warrennolan.com, up from the low 50s entering the weekend. Believe it or not, that keeps the Shockers in the NCAA at-large discussion. While their MVC record is a downer, you can’t ignore their 8-8 record against the top 50 and 7-7 against 51-100. Those are both solid performances and the strength of the MVC (plus Dallas Baptist) may help. This team hasn’t played to the level of an at-large team most of the season. For whatever reason, it has done enough to remain in the picture and it can help its case the rest of the month. Unfortunately, it won’t play another top-50 team unless it is in the MVC Tournament.
- Hawaii did WSU a big favor by sweeping No. 30 New Mexico State. Oklahoma State has won 10 of 11 since losing to the Shockers. Tulane won two of three at No. 22 East Carolina, lost to No. 5 LSU and swept No. 113 Southern Mississippi over the past 10 days.
- WSU should strongly consider canceling Wednesday’s game against No. 270 Alcorn State. It’s important to play games for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that players are here to play games. From an RPI standpoint, however, it hurts. In this case, WSU should adopt the “bowl-eligible” strategy and do whatever is necessary to help its power rating.
- The biggest reason for optimism going forward is that the weekend rotation appears stabilized. Josh Smith can match up with the MVC’s best, as he did on Friday against Indiana State’s Dakota Bacus, and keep WSU in a game. Kris Gardner has a 1.42 ERA in his past four starts, all of them five innings or more. Freshman A.J. Ladwig pitched well on Sunday. He throws strikes and refuses to walk people, which plays well to WSU’s strong defense. He lacks a strikeout pitch, but he can keep WSU in games with his command of the strike zone.
- The bad news is Johnny Coy’s sore left hamstring, which no doubt contributed to his 1-for-8 performance in the first two games. Coy is WSU’s best hitter. While several Shockers are swinging it better in recent weeks, Coy is the only guy who really worries pitchers with his combination of power, average and ability to take a walk. He won’t do anything this week other than rehab. WSU’s offense needs him healthy.
- WSU CF Taylor Doggett went 3 for 8 with two walks in the series, compiling a .500 on-base percentage to lead the Shockers. Doggett, who hit leadoff for a long stretch and got his average up to .395, is a big part of WSU’s future (and present). He slumped mightily (a 1-for-28 stretch) last month. He is 7 for 21 since, mostly as the No. 9 hitter.
- Indiana State C Jeremy Lucas is the best MVC hitter I’ve seen this season. He hits with power, doesn’t give away at-bats and doesn’t strike out. I did not see SIU’s Chris Serritella, who is also having a great season.
- I give Missouri State a slight edge over Indiana State, based on MSU’s offense. I like their lineup better. Both pitching staffs are excellent, although MSU’s gets an edge because of Nick Petree’s amazing season (he stretched his scoreless innings streak to 30 on Friday and hasn’t allowed an earned run in 64.2 innings). The two teams meet in the final series of the regular season in Terre Haute. MSU is in great shape for an at-large bid and Indiana State is in the picture. Winning two of three against the Bears would be a big step for the Sycamores, who are No. 50 in the RPI. They are 4-2 against the top 50, which is solid but isn’t a large amount of games against good competition.
Next up: Alcorn State, 6:30 p.m., Wednesday