Lineup Change Lifts Wichita State to First AAC Series Win

Wichita State huddles after their series winning game against Tulane on Sunday. Photo by Grant Cohen 

WICHITA, Kan.– Wichita State’s first conference home game as a member of the American Athletic Conference was a memorable one for all the wrong reasons.

Not only did Tulane dominate the Shockers 19-4 on Friday, Wichita State also committed seven errors, the most since April 9, 1986.

Wichita State head coach Todd Butler decided, like he had in all of the previous losses, to shake up the lineup for the next two games.

“As a head coach, [a run-rule] isn’t supposed to happen,” Butler said. “There’s nothing we did right. We made seven errors, we didn’t pitch well, we didn’t hit. It seemed like everything they swung at fell in.”

Butler replaced five batters with pinch hitters by the fifth inning in Friday’s game. He inserted juniors Mason O’Brien, Travis Young and Josh DeBacker into Saturday and Sunday’s starting lineups, the first time for DeBacker and Young since March 25.

O’Brien was pulled out of the starting lineup since March 30 because he was having problems with his right shoulder, according to Butler. Butler said that O’Brien was struggling to lift heavy weight with his right shoulder, forcing him to pull him from the starting lineup on April 4 against Oklahoma State.

The move helped lift the Shockers on Saturday, as all players in the starting lineup obtained a hit that evened the series with Tulane with a 9-3 win. O’Brien’s RBI single in the bottom of the fourth inning pushed Wichita State out to a 4-0 lead. Young managed to obtain a two-hit day, driving in a run that gave the Shockers a comfortable 9-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth.

DeBacker, who started in just his third game of the season over the weekend, had a 2 RBI single that allowed the Shockers to take a 7-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth on Saturday. The Lee’s Summit, Missouri native combined for 17 putouts at first base with only one error.

“He deserves (to start),” Butler said. “He’s been with me for four years. He’s an important piece to our team with his leadership. I pull for him, I really do. I want him to get hits every time he goes up there because he’s very much deserving of it. His batting average is going to climb the more opportunities he has.”

O’Brien picked up right where he left off in Sunday’s matchup, bringing in two runs off a left-center double that gave Wichita State an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first. The comfortable lead allowed junior Alec Bohm to hit with ease in the bottom of the third, drilling his eighth home run of the year on the half-inning’s first pitch.

The five through nine batters scored nine out of the Shockers’ 17 combined runs over the weekend.

“They all do things that help the team in their own way,” Bohm said. “[DeBacker] is a great bunter. He does whatever you ask of him. [Young] is probably one of the fastest kids in Kansas. O’Brien has a great swing. They can help us at anytime. They did [Sunday] and have this weekend.”

With 17 different players being put in the starting lineup this season, O’Brien said a key for Wichita State’s players who are not in the starting lineup that day is staying ready and watching every play. O’Brien imagined himself at the plate when he was not in the game on Wednesday, studying every pitch the batters took.

O’Brien finished the weekend 2-for-6 at the plate.

“Even you’re on the bench, every pitch you’ve got to stay locked in,” O’Brien said. “When you got guys on second and third with one out even if you’re not in the game, you’re imagining yourself doing something good so when your opportunity comes you do it.”

Wichita State (22-7, 3-3) travels to Stillwater, Oklahoma for a road game against Oklahoma State on Tuesday and continues conference play with a three-game series at home against UConn.

Grant Cohen

Scout with CBBSN. Wichita State.

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