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Baseball Preview: Long Beach State

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Wichita State (0-0, 0-0 American) vs. Long Beach State (0-0, 0-0 Big West)
Friday February 17 | 8:00 PM CT | Long Beach, Calif. (Bohl Diamond at Blair Field) TV: ESPN+ | Radio: KFH 97.5 FM/1240 AM RHP Clark Candiotti (0-0, 0.00) vs. LHP Graham Osman (0-0, 0.00)

Saturday February 18 | 8:00 PM CT | Long Beach, California (Bohl Diamond at Blair Field) TV: None | Radio: KFH 97.5 FM/1240 AM LHP Payton Tolle (0-0, 0.00) vs. RHP Nico Zeglin (0-0, 0.00)

Sunday February 19 | 3:00 PM CT | Long Beach, Calif. (Bohl Diamond at Blair Field) TV: ESPN+ | Radio: KFH 97.5 FM/1240 AM RHP Grant Adler (0-0, 0.00) vs. TBA

SCENE SETTER: Wichita State opens the 2023 season with a seven-game road trip, with a three-game series at Long Beach State and a four-game series on the road at Utah Tech. The Shockers look for their first road win to start a season since the 2018 campaign when WSU took a three-game series at McNeese State. Friday’s season opener is Wichita State’s first game in the state of California since 2017, when the Shockers lost two of three games at Cal Poly. Wichita State does not play a midweek contest until March 7 after three weekend series. WSU is aiming to rebound from a 21-36 season a year ago, the second-most losses in program history. Interim head coach Loren Hibbs was named to lead the Shockers in December following the departure of Eric Wedge, who compiled a 65-61 record in three seasons at the helm. Wichita State is looking for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2013 season, a regional bid that was later vacated by the NCAA.

SHOCKER BASEBALL ON THE RADIO & ESPN PLUS: KFH 97.5 FM/1240 AM will once again serve as home radio for all Wichita State baseball broadcasts in 2023. Former Shocker pitcher (1991-94) and Pizza Hut Shocker Sports Hall of Famer Shane Dennis and Denning Gerig will have the call of action against Long Beach State and Utah Tech, with “The Voice of the Shockers” and Pizza Hut Shocker Sports Hall of Famer Mike Kennedy returning to the air following the conclusion of the Wichita State men’s basketball season. Friday and Sunday’s games against Long Beach State will be streamed on ESPN+. Live audio, as well as live stats, will be available for all games at GoShockers.com/listen and ShockerStats.com.

HISTORY OF THE SERIES: The Shockers and the Dirtbags have a long and storied history against each other, fighting 53 times in program history. Long Beach State holds a 29-24 all-time series lead, with the last meeting coming in 2015. The Dirtbags swept a three-game series off the Shockers that season, throwing a no-hitter in the final of Sunday series. Long Beach State has won nine of the series’ last ten games; the Shockers’ only win in that stretch was a 5–4 victory in 2014 off a ninth-inning single by Daniel Kihle. The last win by a ranked Wichita State team came against the Dirtbags in 2006, as the Shockers knocked down No. 21 LBSU in three straight. The two teams have met once in the College World Series, an 8-5 win at Wichita State in the opening round of the 1991 CWS. The Shockers reached the Finals after two more victories, but lost to LSU 6–3 in the title game.

LONG BEACH STATE SCOUTING: The Dirtbags finished 29-27 in 2022, including a 17-13 mark in Big West play. Seven of Long Beach State’s 29 wins have come against ranked competition, including a series win to open the year over No. 3 Mississippi State and a career-high 28-2 win over No. 17 Cal Poly. The Dirtbags are tasked with replacing the entire weekend rotation and most of the pitching staff as a whole, including freshman standout Juaron Watts-Brown, who moved to future Shocker opponent Oklahoma State. Long Beach State has added several D1 transfers to the roster, including expected Friday starter Graham Osman (Arizona State) and Saturday arm Nico Zeglin (Gonzaga). Player transfers location is highlighted by infielder Alex Champagne (Arizona State), infielder Nick Marinconz (Cal Poly), outfielder Jashia Morrissey-Jakel (Cal State Bakersfield), and outfielder Joey Walls (UNLV), who led the nation with 26 doubles last season. Head coach Eric Valenzuela returns for his fourth season in charge of the Dirtbags after six years at St. Mary’s (2014-19). The Dirtbags program is one of the most storied in college baseball history, with 1,900 wins and four College World Series appearances entering the 2023 season. Long Beach State is looking for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017.

BACK IN THE SADDLE: Interim head coach Loren Hibbs is in his first season in charge of the Shockers after taking over for Eric Wedge in December of 2022. Hibbs played the record-breaking outfielder for the Shockers, helping WSU to the program’s first CWS appearance in 1982, and still holds the NCAA record for points scored in a single season with 125. He then served as an assistant under legendary Shocker coach Gene Stephenson before moving on to Charlotte, where Hibbs led the 49ers for 27-plus seasons of 800 victories. He returned to the Wichita State program after the 2019 season, joining the staff as Director of Baseball Operations.

HIGH PRAISE: The Shockers landed four players on the American Athletic Conference preseason all-conference team, the most of any club in the league. Internal Brock Roddenexternal Chuck Ingramdesignated hitter Payton Tolle and right-handed pitcher Cameron Hello all were selected, with Rodden being named the conference preseason player of the year. Despite having four best picks in the league, Wichita State was picked fifth in the eight-team American Athletic Conference preseason poll.

RODDEN RETURN: Internal Brock Rodden he burst onto the scene as one of college baseball’s top players in 2022. The Seminole State move led the Shockers in batting average (.338), on-base percentage (.441), and slugging percentage (.653) during the throwing 17 home runs, the most by a Shocker since Drew Moffitt hit 26 long balls in 2004. He was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the tenth round of the 2022 MLB Draft (pick 304 overall) but chose not to sign, one of only three players picked in the first ten rounds to do so.

CALIFORNIA BLUES: Wichita State will be looking to turn a tide of recent struggles in the Golden State this weekend. Dating back to the 2007 season, the Shockers went 4-20 in California state, with singles wins against Cal Poly (2017), UC Santa Barbara (2014), Long Beach State (2010), and Pepperdine (2007). The last win of the series for Wichita State in California was a three-game win against No. 21 Long Beach State in 2006.

INFLOW OF JUCO: The 2023 Wichita State roster features eight junior college transfers, many of whom are expected to be immediate contributors. Former Mississippi State outfielder Kyte McDonald brings elite speed into midfield and St. Mary’s former right footer Clark Candiotti he will take the ball as Wichita State’s Opening Day starter. Two members of Cowley College’s NJCAA second team will play important roles, as an infielder David Herring he’s in the mix for several inside runs and right-handed pitcher Grant Adler departs on Sunday. Right-handed Matt Wilkinson, Colton Vercoe AND Carter Rost they were added to solidify the bullpen and catcher Maurizio Millan it is the appetizer projected behind the plate.

BULLPEN REFILL: There is perhaps no bigger question mark facing the Shockers in 2023 than the development of the bullpen, which returns just over 20% of the team’s attendances from a year ago and no saves. Left handed Caden favors was excellent down the stretch last season, logging 15.1 consecutive scoreless innings as an opener and lefty Jace Miner it showed flashes of brilliance as both a midweek starter and a long relief. Junior right Nate Adler he was highlighted by the coaches in the fall as an up-and-coming candidate and second right Roberto Cranz it has electric stuff that seems to be present in end-of-inning situations. Whoever takes the role closest will be tasked with replacing Connor Holden, who had a 2.78 ERA and six saves in a free agent deal with the Detroit Tigers.

BEAT THE BEST: Despite Wichita State’s disappointing final record, the Shockers have demonstrated their ability to compete against some of the best programs in the nation on several occasions. WSU defeated three Super Regional teams a year ago, beating Texas A&M 6-5 in the Frisco Classic championship, obliterating East Carolina 5-0 for ECU’s only home conference loss, and beating the College World runner-up Series Oklahoma 18-0 in a game where WSU held the Sooners to one shot.

REDUCE THE K’S: If Wichita State is to make a major breakthrough offensively in 2023, a key metric to monitor will be the Shockers contact rate. WSU scored 514 times last season, the most in a single campaign in program history. 10 different Shockers fanned over 30 times.

MAJOR LEAGUE LINE: Two newcomers to Wichita State have fathers who played at the top level. Right pitcher Clark Candiotti is the son of brass knuckle Tom Candiotti, who spent 16 seasons in Major League Baseball with five different teams, and infielder Jack Little is the son of Mark Little, a four-year big leaguer with five different clubs .

TWO WAY TOLLE: Sophomore Payton Tolle quickly became a fan favorite in his first season with the Shockers in 2022, slipping into the weekend rotation and establishing himself as a fearsome presence in the middle of the order. He hit .317 with seven doubles, three home runs and 18 RBI, plus a 4-6 record with a 4.48 ERA in 12 starts. The towering slacker created one of the most memorable moments of the season with a two-run home run in the seventh inning against Texas A&M to help the Shockers win the Frisco Classic. He was named The American’s No. 9 prospect in the class of 2024 by Perfect Game and the No. 14 prospect by D1Baseball.

PENNINGTON POP: One newcomer to watch is junior transfer Garrett Pennington, who joins the Shockers after three seasons at Division II Central Missouri (2020-22). Pennington was named a D2CCA All-American in 2022 after producing ridiculous numbers in his final season with the Mules; the Lenexa, Kansas native slashed .397/.477/.732 for 1.209 OPS. Pennington finished the year with 23 doubles, 11 home runs and 50 RBI in 49 games.

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