FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – When Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson came to substitute pitcher Mike Pelfrey with two outs in the ninth inning against Missouri, the sophomore shrugged and trotted off the field. This wasn’t a pitching change of desperation.
Pelfrey had thrown 8 2/3 innings of shutout, dominating baseball. He totaled 137 pitches, struck out 14 batters and never allowed a baserunner past second base to power the Shockers to a 3-0, first-round win in the double-elimination NCAA regionals.
“It’s very simple: Pelfrey was that good,” Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. “We didn’t have very many opportunities to score runs.”
It didn’t matter that the right-handed Pelfrey was an out away from a complete shutout. Stephenson, after mulling whether to send Pelfrey to the mound for the ninth inning at all, decided he would pull Pelfrey if he allowed anyone to get on base. That happened when Cody Ehlers singled into the gap between first and second. Tommy Hottovy came into to save the last out.
Suddenly, a Missouri team that scored at least nine runs in seven of its last eight games looked cold at the plate.
“We hadn’t seen too many tall righties like that that throw that hard,” Ehlers said. “It was tough to get going. It seemed like we started off in a hole and we could just never really get ourselves out of it.”
And somewhere lost in the hype of Pelfrey’s pitching was the pitching of Tiger pitcher Danny Hill, who threw six sharp innings and one bad one.
In the second, Hill walked the leadoff batter and forced third baseman Brandon Green to ground into a double play. With two outs, Hill surrendered five consecutive hits and allowed the Shockers to take a 2-0 lead.
“I found myself in a good situation early in the game because I had runners in scoring position,” said second baseman Shawn Smarsh, who was 2-for-3 with an RBI. “(Hill) pitched me away, and I took the fastball the other way to hit a groundball between first and second base.”
Wichita State scored an insurance run in the seventh when Smarsh doubled, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a passed ball.
Hill struck out five and allowed three walks.
“If felt like I had some good stuff but it wasn’t my best outing of the year,” Hill said. “I should’ve thrown inside a little more often earlier in the game.”
While Hill didn’t dwell on the subject, Ehlers said he believed the strike zone of umpire Mitch Mele was inconsistent and made it harder to get into a rhythm.
“It was floating around,” Ehlers said. “I know in my first couple at-bats, there were a couple balls three inches off the plate and he would call them. And then he would call a couple balls in a row then call the same pitch a strike.”
Pelfrey said he had to change the way he pitched as the game wore on. He entered the game on eight days’ rest, so he was powering the ball over the plate earlier in the game.
“I pitched a better game as the game went on because I lost some of my velocity and had to focus on making better pitches,” he said. “In the beginning, I tried to blow away more hitters than later in the game.”
After the five-hit second inning, the Shockers scattered five hits in the next five innings, including two off reliever Taylor Parker, who pitched the eighth. All but one batter scored a hit, and the hitless Shocker, Phil Napolitan, reached base on a walk.