No. 18 Wichita State is preparing to take on No. 16 East Carolina Thursday-Saturday in Greenville, North Carolina. Photo by Grant Cohen.
Riding on a six-game winning streak, Wichita State has been off to their best start since 2008 at 18-4.
The Shockers have been gritting their teeth to play in the fourth-best conference in college baseball all season long. Now the wait is finally over.
The no. 18 Shockers travel to Greenville, North Carolina for their first ever American Athletic Conference series with a three-game matchup with no. 16 East Carolina starting on Thursday.
“We’re all excited to start playing the American teams,” pitcher Tommy Barnhouse said. “It should be a lot more blood-pumping, a lot more fans and it’s more exciting baseball overall. I think we’re ready for it.”
After finishing last in the American last season, East Carolina managed to go on a cinderella run during the American Athletic Conference tournament. The Pirates fell one game short of claiming the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, losing to Houston 6-0 in the championship game.
East Carolina has picked up right where they left off this season, adding to their at-large chances of playing in June. The Pirates own wins over no. 6 North Carolina twice, Maryland three times and no. 20 UCF twice this season.
“East Carolina gets crowds. They get like 5,000 people for their games,” Wichita State head coach Todd Butler said. “There will be a lot of good energy Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They were 90 feet from going to Omaha (for the College World Series) two years ago. This will be fun.”
One of the reasons behind Wichita State’s red hot start is due to the improvement of their pitching. The pitching staff had an earned run average of 4.75 last season, improving to 3.13 this season.
The addition of freshman pitcher Liam Eddy, who has a 1.57 ERA and a 5-0 record this season, has helped give the Shockers a lift on the mound. Along with Codi Heur (4-0, 3.18 ERA) in the starting rotation, Butler moved bullpen reliever Tommy Barnhouse into the starting lineup last Sunday.
Barnhouse, the projected starter for the third game against East Carolina on Saturday, delivered with a career-high of eight strikeouts while only allowing two hits. Wichita State’s four relievers did not allow a single hit to the final 17 Furman batters faced.
“He’s a strike thrower. We had him on a pitch count (Sunday) because he’s been in the bullpen,” Butler said. “Barnhouse is a very good pitcher that’s really grown from last year.”
East Carolina is tied with Wichita State with a team batting average of .283. The Pirates, however, own the upper hand on pitching so far this season.
The Pirates have a team ERA of 2.58 while striking out 187 batters. They’ve pitched four shutouts as a team and have held their opponents to a .237 batting average.
While Wichita State prepares to face a pitching staff that makes life difficult for batters, the Shockers feel that their non-conference schedule will help them in this weekend series and conference play going forward.
“It’s helping progressing against good arms against good teams,” freshman Paxton Wallace said. “East Carolina is going to come in and be very good. Having a tough (non-conference) is going to help us prepare for a tough conference.”