Wichita State huddles after defeating Oklahoma State 7-5 at Eck Stadium on Wednesday night. Photo by Grant Cohen
WICHITA, Kan.– Bouncing back from adversity was something that defined the struggles for Wichita State in 2017.
The Shockers had a losing streak of three games or more five separate times before eventually losing the last two out of three that smashed their NCAA Tournament hopes to smithereens.
Facing a similar situation after losing two straight at no. 16 East Carolina last weekend, the 22nd ranked team in the country put their mindset on getting the momentum back on their side before their conference opening series against Tulane this weekend.
“This team, we never thought we would lose two in a row,” junior Dayton Dugas said. “ECU was a good club. We spanked them on Thursday and coach Butler told us to be ready to play because UCF played them that week before and ECU ended up taking the last two. He told us to be locked in and it didn’t go our way.”
The Shockers answered the bell whenever Oklahoma State came crawling back to tie Wednesday’s game at Eck Stadium. Wichita State strung together 11 hits to get back to their winning ways with a 7-5 win over the Cowboys.
After the Shockers obtained a quick 2-0 lead after two innings, Oklahoma State head coach Josh Holliday elected to go with Michael Neustifter as a pinch hitter in the top of the third for Dylan Gardner, who did not get an at-bat as the starting designated hitter due to illness, Holliday said.
Even though Gardner was sick, Holliday said he wanted to see how Wichita State starting pitcher Preston Snavely pitched and determined who the best matchup was for him.
Neustifter delivered with a leadoff double and was followed with back-to-back singles from Trevor Boone and Carson McCusker that tied the game. While Wichita State responded a half-inning later to tie the game, it was Neustifter again that swung the momentum towards the Cowboys’ side and let the offense feed off his bat.
The sophomore’s RBI single in the top of the sixth allowed Oklahoma State to pull within one run. Despite a pitching change by the Shockers following Neustifter’s single, McCusker belted a double that allowed Neustifter to score from first and tie the game at five.
“When guys are hitting the ball in the gap and getting on, they’re creating opportunities for runs and Mike did that,” Holliday said. “Guys did a good job of knocking them in. It takes two to tango. It takes two to score runs. You’ve got to get a guy on and get him in. He did a good job of getting on and a good job from the other guys behind him of driving him for scoring.”
Even with Oklahoma State’s seven, eight and nine hitters combining for 7-for-12 from the plate and driving in all five runs for the Cowboys, the Shockers’ bottom half hitters made their own noise from the plate. Dugas, who was batting seventh in the Shockers’ order, scored the go-ahead run thanks to his 100th career hit and third home run of the season in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Hear what Dayton Dugas said about his 100th career hit and third home run of the season that gave Wichita State the win over Oklahoma State. Video by Grant Cohen
Oklahoma State, who came off a series sweep against no. 18 TCU, only strung together one hit in the final two innings of play. Senior Chandler Sanburn continued in his role of closer in the final half-inning, striking out two out of the three batters he faced to earn his fifth save of the season and finish off the Cowboys.
“We could go down in the first inning and there’s going to be no panic in the dugout. Nobody’s worried. We can go down in the eighth inning, still no one is worried,” Dugas said. “We just have full trust in everybody, whoever is going to come from the bullpen, whoever is going to be up to bat. As you know, we got guys on the bench that can come in there and hit a home run whenever they want.
“It’s just good to have confidence in whoever is going to be up there and battle back from everything and we’ve shown that we can do that.”
Wichita State head coach Todd Butler’s message was simple to his team following the two losses: get back on the winning streak for conference play. The Shockers play their first home conference series as members of the American Athletic Conference, facing Tulane for a three-game series starting on Friday.
Tulane has lost five out of their last six games, but that lone win came at co-conference leader USF.
“[Oklahoma State] is a regional matchup, storied history between these two programs, going back to Gary Ward and Gene Stephenson,” Butler said. “We’re trying to be one of the better teams in the Midwest, so tonight was a good game.”