May 30, 2003


CBI Live
Bats and the Pelfrey lead Shockers
Wichita advances to meet Rice

By Jonathan Yardley

Rice Thresher

Special to


Jonathan Yardley is a Rice University sophomore, sports editor of the Rice Thresher and a radio announcer for Rice baseball on the Rice University sports network.


HOUSTON – Wichita State freshman Mike Pelfrey may not have the experience of his counterpart, Ole Miss senior T.J. Beam, but he out-dueled the veteran in Friday’s regional nightcap at Reckling Park.


Pelfrey used more effective off-speed pitches to lead the third-seeded Shockers to a 4-2 win over the second-seeded Rebels before a crowd of 3,172. The Shockers (48-25) advance to meet top-seeded Rice, which edged McNeese State. The Rebels (34-26) face the Cowboys in an elimination game Saturday.


Pelfrey worked seven strong innings to combat a complete-game outing from Beam. The game pitted two lanky, hard-throwing right-handers, as both are listed at 6-7 and throw fastballs in the low-to-mid 90s. Beam and Pelfrey cruised through the first three innings with only three hits between the two teams, but Mississippi got on the board first in the fourth.


Sophomore centerfielder Seth Smith turned on an inside fastball and crushed a line drive well over the right-field wall for a solo home run. Freshman first baseman Stephen Head lined the next pitch back up the middle – knocking Pelfrey down in the process – but the freshman recovered to strike out the side on 13 pitches. Pelfrey, who improved to 10-2 on the season, then pitched through the seventh inning, stranding a runner on base in each of his last six innings before turning the lead over to the bullpen.


“He was a poised competitor and did an amazing job,” Wichita State head coach Gene Stephenson said. “He threw his best pitches with runners in scoring position. I’ve seen him with better stuff, but I’m never seen him compete better.”


Wichita State, the Missouri Valley Conference tournament champion, responded to Smith’s home run, as shortstop Nick McCoola hit a fifth-inning line drive into a strong wind that affected most fly balls, just clearing the right-field fence for a game-tying homer.


The Shockers, playing without leading hitter Phil Napolitan, continued their charge in the sixth, taking advantage of a leadoff walk to centerfielder Nick Blasi. Stephenson sent Blasi on a 1-0 pitch, staying out of a double play when Ryan Bell hit a chopper to third. First baseman Logan Sorensen then doubled down the right-field line, just under the glove of a diving Head, to make it a 2-1 game. Designated hitter Bryan Erstad blooped an RBI single for a 3-1 lead before catcher Cody Clark provided the final Wichita State run of the game with a long triple to left field off the glove of Ole Miss left fielder Jonathan Swearingen.


“I had looked bad on fastballs in my first two at-bats,” Clark said. “I just kept fouling off pitches and finally got one. I thought it might go out, but then I just kept running.”


Mississippi pulled to 4-2 on a sixth-inning double from third baseman Brian Pettway, but Pelfrey notched another strikeout to strand Pettway at second base.

Ole Miss tried to rally again in the seventh after a leadoff single from designated hitter Drew Rogers, his third of the game. But baserunning got in the way. After Rogers advanced to second on a wild pitch, Rebels head coach Mike Bianco pinch ran for him before a sacrifice bunt from No. 9 hitter Matt Tolbert. Pelfrey then put the tying run at first base by hitting Swearingen. With his best bunter at the plate, Bianco called a safety squeeze to get one run home, but Charlie Waite took the curveball for a strike. Clark then fired behind Swearingen at first base for a rally-killing pickoff.


Wichita State’s defense also came to Pelfrey’s aid with huge plays in the third and fifth innings. In the third, third baseman Brandon Green made a spectacular diving play to his left, capped off by a strong throw and a great stretch by Sorensen to end the inning and strand a runner at third. The Shockers’ defense saved another run in the fifth when right-fielder Drew Moffitt threw out Rogers trying to go first-to-third on a Tolbert single.


“We can play some defense, and we can pitch a little bit,” Stephenson said. “We made some good decisions, especially with runners in scoring position against us.”


Beam settled down after the sixth and held Wichita State the rest of the way. Shockers relievers Tommy Hottovy and Mike Dennison nailed the door shut, with Dennis picking up his 14th save of the year.


“T.J. Beam made us look awfully anemic,” Stephenson said. “If he had been able to command another pitch beside the fastball, we might never have been able to score.”


Beam agreed and said he did not have his best stuff.


“I really didn’t have much of a curveball tonight,” Beam said. “They were hitting good pitches. [In the sixth], hitting is contagious, and I had to battle to get out of the inning.”


Beam finished with a complete-game six-hitter, striking out eight and throwing a heroic 139 pitches, but it was the breaking pitches of Pelfrey that helped him strike out nine and walk none in seven innings.


“Pelfrey was outstanding,” Stephenson said. “He had command of three pitches for strikes.”


WSU is expected to send freshman left-hander Steve Uhlmansiek to the mound Saturday, while Rice will counter with 6-9 right-hander Jeff Niemann.