TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State starting pitcher Greg Kuhlman did his best.
Actually, he did far better than he ever has previously in an ISU uniform, but while Kuhlman’s gutty pitching effort spoke volumes, ISU’s bats remained ominously silent.
The Sycamores could get nothing going against Wichita State starting pitcher Kris Gardner and the Shockers stayed alive in the Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament with a 5-0 victory on Thursday at Illinois State’s Duffy Bass Field.
The Sycamores and Shockers will face off again at 1:37 p.m. today. The winner advances to Saturday’s MVC championship game. The loser goes home.
“That was a winnable game tonight if we go out and do a good job offensively. As good as we were yesterday, we were as bad today,” ISU coach Rick Heller said. “We had 15 or 16 fly ball outs. We didn’t make any adjustments. It was very, very frustrating to watch.”
Kuhlman, who had only pitched six innings in a game once previously this season, walked a tightrope, but didn’t fall from it until the sixth inning.
Kuhlman struck out nine, tying a season-high, and allowed just five hits in six innings.
“It was a decent outing. I had some struggles, but was able to get out of it most of the time. Credit to them, you have to battle them one to nine and they got me [in the sixth],” Kuhlman said.
Given what was on the line, it was an impressive effort. There was just one problem.
“Greg gave us a chance and that’s all we can ask for. The only knock is that he went deep into counts and got his pitch count high early, but he gave us a chance to win,” said Heller, referring to Kuhlman’s 118 pitches thrown.
Even if Kuhlman had pitched no-hit ball, ISU’s offense didn’t provide support. After the offense was sharp in a 5-0 victory over Southern Illinois on Wednesday, it went into hiding.
ISU had seven base hits, and had runners at third base in each of the first three innings, but couldn’t cash any of them in.
“There was a lot of frustration out there. Any time 15 out of 27 outs are in the air? Anyone can catch the ball at this level. We have to come out tomorrow and hit the top half of the ball and hit line drives all over the park,” ISU first baseman Robby Ort said.
Gardner kept ISU off-balance for the entirety of the contest. Gardner struck out three, but threw just 99 pitches in a complete game effort. ISU didn’t put a dent in a well-rested WSU bullpen that also wasn’t used in the Shockers’ survival wins on Wednesday against Creighton and on Thursday morning against SIU.
“He kept them off-balance pretty much all day,” WSU coach Gene Stephenson said. “We put ourselves in a position to win five in a row. Any time you can get a complete game …”
Kuhlman constantly pitched his way out of trouble in the first five innings. WSU had the bases loaded in the third, but lefty Kuhlman struck out right-handed Casey Gillaspie to end the threat. He also struck out two consecutive Shockers in the fourth with Johnny Coy at second base with no outs.
The Shockers broke through in the sixth. A leadoff double by Tyler Baker and subsequent single by Gillaspie set up Coy’s sacrifice fly to right field that opened scoring. Mikel Mucha’s RBI single later made it 2-0.
The No. 2-seeded Shockers (37-26) tacked on two more in the seventh — RBI doubles by Baker and Gillaspie provided the big hits — and added one more in the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Baker.
No. 6-seeded ISU (26-24) could muster nothing. The Sycamores only got two baserunners on after WSU scored and only one of them reached second base.
It is unlikely Sean Manaea will pitch today’s elimination game. Manaea did not throw at all during ISU’s pregame warm-ups.
Heller said ISU will either start Tyler Fehringer — who was a mid-week starter this season — or go back to Josh Negele, who pitched six innings of emergency relief in Tuesday’s opener.
“We’ll throw the guys we have and hope they do a good job. We need Fehringer to give us some innings,” Heller said.
Given the paucity of pitching, Heller knows ISU’s best chance to win the MVC championship went by the wayside with Thursday’s loss.
“We needed to win today. We’ll find a way to battle and get after them. It’s not Friday’s game so much as Saturday’s game now that we’re in the loser’ bracket,” Heller said.
WSU 5, ISU 0
WICHITA STATE (AB-R-H-RBI) — Dearman 2b 3-0-1-0, Bayliff rf 4-2-1-0, Baker c 3-2-2-2, Gillaspie 1b 4-1-2-1, Coy dh 3-0-1-1, Green cf 4-0-1-0, Mucha lf 3-0-1-1, Harbutz 3b 3-0-0-0, Parker ss 4-0-1-0. TOTALS 31-5-10-5.
INDIANA STATE (AB-R-H-RBI) — Curry cf 3-0-0-0, Hannahs 2b 4-0-1-0, Ort 1b 4-0-2-0, Fitzgerald c 4-0-0-0, Kraemer 3b 4-0-1-0, McClain lf 2-0-1-0, Hayes rf 3-0-0-0, Shaw dh 2-0-1-0, Pearson pr-dh 1-0-0-0, Wampler ss 3-0-1-0. TOTALS 30-0-7-0.
Wichita State 000 002 201 — 5
Indiana State 000 000 000 — 0
E — Hayes (3). LOB — WSU 10, ISU 5. 2B — Baker 2 (13), Gillaspie (15), Parker (3). 3B — McClain (1). SH — Mucha (3), Harbutz (2); Curry (8), McClain (1). SF — Baker (6), Coy (7). SB — Pearson (3). CS — Dearman (2); Ort (3).
IP H R ER BB SO
Gardner (W, 3-6) 9 7 0 0 0 3
IP H R ER BB SO
Kuhlman (L, 3-2) 6 5 2 2 3 9
Browning 2/3 1 2 2 1 1
McElderry 1 1 0 0 0 0
Dove 1 1/3 3 1 0 1 0
WP — Kuhlman (5). HBP — by Kuhlman (Baker), by McElderry (Green). T: 2:39.
Next — ISU (26-24) will play Wichita State (37-26) at 1:37 p.m. today in a MVC Tournament elimination game.