Photo by Grant Cohen
Wichita State baseball suddenly finds themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Despite College Sports Madness projecting the Shockers to play in the Lubbock Regional, Baseball America and D1 Baseball don’t have Wichita State in the field. Baseball America does not put Wichita State in the list of First or Next Four Out.
The Shockers took a major drop in the RPI rankings this week, moving from 18 to 31 after dropping two home games to Cincinnati (103 RPI) this past weekend.
“I’m not really sure about [the NCAA Tournament projections],” junior Alec Bohm said. “We’ve got a good record. Obviously conference is well below .500, so we need to finish well in conference and make some noise in the [American Athletic Conference] Tournament.”
The number of quality wins that includes East Carolina, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and UConn plays in Wichita State’s favor, but a 6-12 record in conference play stands out more. Wichita State has nine games left and only one opponent ranks in the top 50 RPI (USF,26). The Shockers are one of three teams that have yet to qualify for the conference tournament, having a three-game lead on Memphis for the final spot.
With the Shockers having trouble in the third highest rated RPI conference in the nation, Wichita State had an extensive meeting after the 5-1 loss on Sunday about the hole they dug and what needs to happen to avoid sweating it out during the Selection Show.
“We’re trying to find a way to put wins together. That’s how we’re going to make our case,” sophomore pitcher Preston Snavely said. “We can’t just win one and then lose two. We have to put five or six together here at the end to make that case.”
Moving from the Missouri Valley to the American has presented significant changes, especially with pitching. While Wichita State ranks first in the conference in runs scored, the pitching staff ranks sixth in runs allowed by letting 205 runs score. While the Shockers average 6.5 runs per game, an opponent’s Friday night ace has held the Shockers to score only 3.2 runs per game.
That statistic has resulted in the Shockers not being able to come up with a Friday victory in conference play, something head coach Todd Butler said needs to change.
“The biggest issue is winning on Fridays,” Butler said. “You want to win on Friday because it sets the tone for the weekend and have a chance to win at least two out of three. We haven’t won on Friday. I think we have to figure out a Friday night starter to match their no. 1 (pitcher) and go from there.”
Butler claims that if Wichita State was in another conference besides the American, their chances of an NCAA Tournament bid would come down to the conference tournament’s automatic. The non-conference games of Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and K-State are just as important because a loss would set the Shockers’ RPI even further back, with all of those opponents outside of the top 100 RPI.
The Shockers’ are focused on qualifying for the conference tournament first, as the last place team does not travel to Clearwater, Florida. With a series at Memphis wrapping up Wichita State’s schedule, the Shockers want to avoid a season-determining showdown with the Tigers and put themselves in a position where they still are in the discussion to be playing in June.
“We’re not too pressured. We’re don’t feel too nervous about it,” Snavely said. “We just need to get back on that winning streak and put those wins together to get that at-large bid. But if we don’t, then it’s baseball.”