Weekend review: Wichita State at Tulane

Scores: Tulane 5, WSU 1 (12); Tulane 5, WSU 4; WSU 10, Tulane 3

Key stats: The Shockers majored in mistakes the first two games, in many areas, to help a below-average Tulane team win two games. WSU hit .241 for the series, committed six errors and the bullpen compiled a 13.06 ERA. RF Garrett Bayliff hit .429 and didn’t strike out. CF Micah Green hit .417 and walked twice. Tulane’s shift robbed 1B Casey Gillaspie of two hits on Friday, so he started hitting the ball over the infield and went 3 for 6 with three walks in the final two games. Before RHP Cale Elam injured his foot, WSU’s starters posted a 0.82 ERA. A.J. Ladwig continued his role as hard-luck pitcher by shutting out Tulane for nine innings in Friday’s loss.

  • People often tell me how much fun it must be to cover winning teams. It certainly is, most of the time. Losing isn’t all bad. Often, a loss cuts through the cliches and graciousness of winning.  In basketball coach Gregg Marshall’s first season, WSU lost to Monmouth in the Virgin Islands and I will never forget the interview in a hallway outside the locker room. His response to every question was “We’ve got to go to work. We’ve got to recruit.” I could have asked him about the breakfast buffet and he would have looked at me – pacing, arms folded, voice grim – and replied “Got to go to work. Got to recruit.” And that’s how Marshall turned his program around.
  • On Saturday, WSU lost a gut-wrenching game to Tulane and I (for lack of anything sunnier to talk about) asked coach Todd Butler about Tulane’s bullpen. It was almost as if Butler had waited his whole life to talk about Green Wave relievers. “They throw hard, don’t they?” he said. “They have power arms, don’t they? That’s the advantage they have. Power arms.” WSU possesses good relievers and the bullpen has done its job most of the season. Seniors Aaron LaBrie and Foster Vielock own track records of success. Ray Ashford pitched well before struggling recently and Drew Palmer had his good moments. But the Shockers don’t blow anybody away with their velocity out of the bullpen.
  • If one thing is clear about the direction Butler wants to take this program, it’s that power arms are on the way and pitching is the priority with scholarship dollars. WSU signed five junior-college pitchers and, if reports are accurate, all throw in the 90s, some well into the 90s. Some have issues hitting the target, but that’s up to pitching coach Brent Kemnitz to fix. Butler wants to start with power arms, most of them draft prospects, and build.
  • WSU’s bullpen excelled last season, in part, because of its contrast. WSU could go to Brandon Peterson and Albert Minnis, draft picks with powerful arms. LaBrie and T.J. McGreevy provided control, savvy and endurance. Vielock was a little of both. This season, the bullpen has little contrast  and less depth and hitters are able to get comfortable against similar pitchers who must be on target to succeed.
  • WSU lost three straight games in their opponent’s final at-bat. Butler credited his team for coming to the park upbeat on Sunday. “The one surprising thing, kind of, to me, is when I got in the dugout, as soon as the game started, the guys elevated their emotions,” he said. “They were into the game. You just keep building and trying to stay positive going through all the things we go through.” Sunday turned into that kind of game, with almost everybody boarding the plane with something good to think about. Zair Koeiman homered for the first time. Bayliff went 2 for 5 and made a nice diving catch in right to end the fourth inning. Tanner Dearman singled and walked and scored two runs. Tyler Baker ended a tough weekend at the plate with an RBI double.
  • WSU’s general offensive trend seems somewhat positive, despite Friday’s loss. It hasn’t approached the long-term futility that plagued it during the eight-game losing streak. It scored four or more runs in eight of the nine games since, which is usually enough to make a game competitive. Daniel Kihle’s return helped, although he struggled this weekend. Chase Simpson is getting on base and making teams pay for pitching to Gillaspie more often. But the Shockers aren’t likely to turn into an offensive juggernaut. The one thing they must do is stop making egregious mistakes on the basepaths, something that seems much more in their control than adding pop to their bats. WSU was fortunate in that three big goofs (Green not scoring from third on a groundball Friday; Khile getting doubled off first base Saturday and Wes Phillips getting picked off second Saturday) were covered up by other plays. The Shockers scored in all three innings, despite those mistakes. If WSU is going to win four or five straight in the MVC Tournament, it can’t afford those mistakes.
  • WSU returns to MVC play the next three weekends with a chance to make a move. It is tied with Missouri State at fifth at 6-6. Second-place Illinois State is 10-5, so little is decided behind first-place Evansville (9-3).  WSU got another solid start out of Kris Gardner, who pitched four innings and allowed one run, Tuesday against Missouri. He will be WSU’s fourth starter, if necessary, in the tournament so raising his pitch count and building his confidence is crucial. He starts Wednesday against Oklahoma State. Freshman Cody Tyler, who hasn’t started a game and hasn’t pitched more than one inning, starts Tuesday against Kansas.

Up next: vs Kansas, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (Cox 22)