The Round House | 17/02/2023 14:39:00
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Listen to a Podcast with Shockers Jordan Rogers and Caden Favors Listen to a Podcast with Interim Coach Loren Hibbs
By Paul Suellentrop Wichita State baseball begins with a throwback series at Long Beach State. The schools have met 53 times, but not since 2015. They are proud programs in similar positions trying to work their way up the ladder in college baseball. Interim head coach Loren Hibbs will make his first trip to Blair Field. The teams first met in the 1991 College World Series, and the Shockers traveled to California for the first time in 1994, after Hibbs left his assistant coaching position and moved to Charlotte as head coach. “We’re on the same road, we’re both trying to get to the same end,” Hibbs said. “They’re coming back to Wichita next year, so I think it’s great for our fans.”
What are the foundations of this team?
Wichita State went 21-36 last season. Returns his first three batters in Brock Rodden and third baseman Sawyre Thornhill and outfielder Chuck Ingram. Starters like outfielders Jordan Rogers and Seth Stroh and pitcher/DH Payton Tolle also played big roles in 2022. Tolle, who was expected to cleanout, hit .317 with three home runs and seven doubles as a freshman. Rogers, a redshirt sophomore, hit .349 in his last 27 games in 2022 as he nailed the starting spot in left field. On the mound, Tolle, Cameron Bye and Caden Favors are the best comebacks. Rodden, selected by the Oakland A’s in the 10th round, is joined by Ingram, Tolle and Bye on the American Athletic Conference preseason all-conference team. The Shockers added eight junior college transfers. Hibbs wants to leverage Wichita State’s speed to produce a more aggressive offense than in recent seasons. “We will play much faster,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot more movement, a lot more hit and run, a lot more steals, a lot more stuff to try and build offense.” In 24 conference games last season, the Shockers hit .276 to rank for fourth in the All-Americans. Their 148 runs tied Tulane for fourth. They stole 10 bases in 21 attempts, both trailing in the conference. Reducing strikeouts would also help the offense. Wichita State struck out 514 last season and posted the lowest on base percentage (. 355) in the AAC.
Who should I watch?
Rodden is coming off one of Wichita State’s finest recent offensive seasons. His 17 home runs are the most by a Shocker since Drew Moffitt hit 26 in 2004. He also led the Shockers in hitting .338 with 51 runs and 73 hits. He started 48 games at second base last season and could play shortstop as Hibbs experiments with lineups early in the season. He’ll likely reach second place for the Shockers early in the season. “He played short in junior college, so that’s not new for him,” Hibbs said. “He’s scored the lead in junior college and could end up hitting three holes for us. He’s got the energy and attitude we want to play with.”
How about a newcomer to join the lineup?
NCAA Division II Central Missouri transfer first baseman Garrett Pennington will get into the top of the batting order, likely hitting third. Pennington, a Lenexa junior, hit .397 with 11 home runs and a team-leading 23 doubles for Central Missouri, which went 46-9 and advanced to NCAA Division II regional play. He earned All-Central Central Region second-team honors as a designated hitter and first-team All-MIAA honors. “Big power guy, big touch guy,” Rogers said. “You can tell he’s committed and he’s taking it seriously. He’s going to be a guy we can count on.” Jack Little, a freshman utility player, got people’s attention with the speed of him. Shortstop David Herring, a transfer from Cowley College, also figures prominently in the plans. Kyte McDonald, who played two seasons at Mississippi State, is stuck as the team’s center fielder and first batter. At catcher, transfer Mauricio Millan will have a chance to replace three-year starter Ross Cadena.
What does the rotation look like?
This is Wichita State’s biggest question. Last season’s earned run average of 5.97 is the program’s highest since 2016 (also 5.97). Aside from a COVID-shortened 2020, the Shockers have been under 4.50 once in the past seven seasons (3.91 in 2018). Newcomer Clark Candiotti starts opener against Long Beach State. Tolle will start the second match, followed by the transfer Grant Adler in the final. Tolle, as a sophomore, went 4-6 with a 4.48 ERA in 2022. Adler, of Wichita, earned All-Region VI and Jayhawk Conference East Division Pitcher of the Year honors at Cowley this past spring. This puts the bullpen in the hands of several skilled hands. The departure of Connor Holden, with six saves and a 2.78 ERA last season, leaves a hole closer. Favors, a lefty, finished 2022 strong by allowing one earned run and 11 hits in his last 21 regular season innings. He is a key figure because of his versatility. He can initiate or throw relief. Bye went 5-2 with a 3.76 ERA in 10 starts and 17 starts. Lui came into the starting rotation in early March and held conference champion ECU scoreless for eight innings in a 5-0 win in April. Lefty Jace Miner performed well in several midweek games against Big 12 opponents, including four scoreless innings against Oklahoma in May.
What is the key trait of the season?
Last season’s team started 0-6. In 2021, the Shockers went 1-3 before winning five straight en route to a 31-23 record. In 2019, Wichita State started 1-5. You got it. Too often in recent seasons the Shockers have put themselves in a hole in February. Wichita State plays seven games on the road before opening at home against Oakland on March 3. It would be helpful to go back to Eck Stadium with a winning record and build from there. The busiest stretch may begin with an early April trip to Oklahoma state, followed by Houston’s visit to Eck Stadium. The Cougars are picked second in the AAC. The Shockers cap that stretch playing 2022 NCAA runner-up Oklahoma before heading to Tulane.
Paul Suellentrop writes about Wichita State Athletics for University Strategic Communications. Story hint? Contact him at [email protected].