NORMAL, Ill. — Wichita State could have a little extra incentive Wednesday when the Shockers meet Creighton in a Missouri Valley tournament battle for survival.
Dropping two of three games to the Bluejays two weeks ago cost Wichita State a chance to win the regular-season championship. Illinois State clinched the title by sweeping Southern Illinois last weekend.
The impact of those two series, Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson said, might have figured into the Shockers' 5-1 loss to the Salukis in Tuesday's opening round at Duffy Bass Field. And Stephenson was none too happy if they did.
“You have to come to compete,” Stephenson said. “If you don't come here and compete and play your butts off, you're going to leave here two-and-'cue just like we did last year. I don't understand why they act the way they do.
“It's like, 'We lost the league championship because we couldn't beat Creighton or we didn't get any help from Southern Illinois.' You know what? You have to help yourself, and that's the whole problem. We just haven't been aggressive enough or mean enough or tough enough to play the game. That's embarrassing.”
Stephenson wheeled and stomped off to begin preparing for Wednesday's 9 a.m. game against the Bluejays.
The lack of fight, Stephenson said, was apparent after Southern Illinois scored three runs in the fourth inning to erase a 1-0 deficit.
“We were down two runs, but we acted like it was insurmountable,” he said. “I don't get it.”
Groth gets start for CU
Creighton will pitch freshman Austin Groth (2-1, 4.54 ERA) in Wednesday's game as regular No. 2 starter Nick Musec continues to recover from a back injury.
Coach Ed Servais said Musec could pitch later in the tournament if Creighton can win. Servais also indicated Tommy Strunc, who lasted just 123 innings in Tuesday's 4-3 loss to Indiana State, could be available if the Bluejays can get past the Shockers.
“We'll start Austin, but a lot of guys will be involved,” Servais said. “Right now it's about getting to the next day and the next day.”
Creighton got solid relief work against the Sycamores from sophomore right-hander Mark Lukowski. He entered the game with the bases loaded in the second and got out of the jam with a groundout.
He gave up two hits in the third that helped produce the Sycamores' second run. After giving up a two-out hit in the fourth, Lukowski retired the last 10 batters he faced.
“He was outstanding,” Servais said. “He gave us every chance to come back.”
After seeing limited action in 2012 as a freshman, Lukowski has developed into one of the team's most dependable relievers. He lowered his ERA to 2.22 in his 25th appearance of the season.
“The main thing was I was just trying to throw strikes and let my defense work behind me,” Lukowski said. “That's what I've tried to do all year.”
Bits and pieces
Creighton center fielder Mike Gerber went 2 for 5 with two RBIs in his first game since April 21. Gerber had an appendectomy on April 26. “I felt good when I was swinging,” he said. “Everything went fine. No complaints.” ... Creighton and Wichita State have never met as winless teams in an elimination game. The teams haven't started 0-1 in the same tournament since 1994. ... Indiana State coach Rick Heller said he was uncertain of ace Sean Manaea's status for the rest of the tournament. Shoulder stiffness caused Manaea to leave Tuesday's game after throwing a few warmup pitches in the first inning.
— Steven Pivovar