Scores: WSU 3, MSU 2; WSU 11, MSU 9; WSU 3, MSU 0
Key stats: WSU’s pitching controlled two of the wins and kept the Shockers close in a third. While the Bears battered A.J. Ladwig and T.J. McGreevy in the second game, seven Shockers held them to two runs in the other 18 innings of the series. WSU’s defense played a major role, committing two errors to MSU’s four. The Bears handed WSU the go-ahead runs in the 11-9 win on a two-run throwing error. In the ninth inning of the 3-0 win, a throwing error by the left fielder moved Micah Green into scoring position, and Taylor Doggett drove in two runs with a single.
Records: WSU 30-21, 14-4 MVC; MSU 27-16, 11-7
- The Shockers put themselves in a strong position to win their first MVC title since 2010 with a weekend of good pitching and timely hitting. The Shockers lead Illinois State by percentage points. WSU finishes its MVC schedule with a home series against Creighton. The Redbirds play Evansville and at Southern Illinois. Should the Shockers sweep, ISU must win all six to tie. Should the Shockers go 2-1, ISU must go 5-1 to tie. The Redbirds, who had won 12 in a row before Sunday’s loss, are playing well enough to win out. That will be difficult, however, especially against Evansville.
- Any discussion of WSU’s bullpen strength means recognizing the problems in the rotation. The Shockers are loaded with quality relievers, as they prove each weekend. This weekend, it was Aaron LaBrie who saved the day with his performance in Sunday’s first game. Brandon Peterson earned two saves on Sunday and never let things get wacky on a day when wacky often ruled. Albert Minnis, Foster Vielock, LaBrie and Peterson all have ERAs under 2.00 in MVC games.
- So, the MVC Tournament may come down to how much WSU gets from starters A.J. Ladwig and Garrett Brummett. Ladwig, after two encouraging outings, fumbled an 8-0 lead and gave the Bears hope. Finishing off batters with two strikes continues to be a problem. In the second inning, he got two strikes on five straight batters and all five reached (three singles, hit by pitch, fielder’s choice). There’s some bad luck involved, but he kept the Bears swinging and handed them momentum. He also hurt himself after fielding a bunt by looking at third before throwing to second. He got the out there, but the delay spoiled a chance for an inning-ending double play. “As routine as you could ask, and we turn and act like we’re going to throw third,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. “They don’t get any runs if he goes to second like he’s supposed to. It could have been a cakewalk from that point. That gave them some life.” Brummett is pitching well, but also walking a dangerous line because of his inability to strike batters out. In his three starts, he hasn’t allowed a run in 15 innings, thanks to excellent control, an ability to get off-balance swings and good defense. He has struck out five batters in those 15 innings and at some point it will get tougher without mixing in at least a few more strikeouts. Drew Palmer’s injury (still unknown) makes his availability the rest of the season a question. WSU will play four games against Northwestern to end the regular season and I would expect an audition in at least one of those games.
- WSU’s defense continues to excel. The Shockers are fielding .975, which will put them roughly in the top 30 nationally. Erik Harbutz made two difficult over-the-shoulder catches at shortstop on Sunday. Tyler Baker, at third, robbed Luke Voit of extra bases with a runner at first, with a diving catch and strong throw in Sunday’s second game. At catcher, Baker made a smart play on a bunt in Sunday’s first game to quickly field it and return home to tag a runner. In the ninth inning of Sunday’s second game, left fielder Mikel Mucha made an all-or-nothing dive to come up with a catch for the second out.
- Center fielder Taylor Doggett went 5 for 10 and walked twice on the weekend. He drove in four runs. Doggett has been an all-or-nothing guy in his one-plus seasons at WSU, way too prone to striking out. If he can mix in some patience, he can become a dangerous hitter with great speed. Second baseman Tanner Dearman went 5 for 13 and scored three runs. First baseman Casey Gillaspie went 4 for 10 and walked three times to compile an on-base percentage of .538.
- Johnny Coy’s role the rest of the season will be interesting to watch. Micah Green took over the DH job on Sunday, going 2 for 9. Coy went 0 for 4 on the weekend, striking out three times against Nick Petree on Satuday and pinch-hitting in Sunday’s first game. Coy is hitting .220 in MVC games wtih 16 strikeouts and three walks in 59 at-bats. WSU desperately needs him to find the power stroke he showed during his first three seasons, but it can’t live with his strikeouts when other options are available. Coy, who entered the season with 23 homers, has two.
Next up: vs. Kansas, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday