May 31, 2003


CBI Live
Relievers make believers out of Shockers
Wichita State knocks out Ole Miss

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 head coach Gene Stephenson did not get the dominant starting pitching performance he wanted in Saturday night’s elimination game against Mississippi, but his relief pitchers came through before a crowd of 2,845 at Reckling Park.


Relievers Trenton Henderson, Reuben Kerbs, and Mike Dennison combined to allow just one run in 6.2 innings as the Shockers rallied from a disheartening 10-1 loss at the hands of host Rice in the afternoon to edge the Rebels 5-4.


Wichita State advances to Sunday’s championship against Rice, but must beat the homestanding Owls twice to take the regional title.


Wichita State (49-26) broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the ninth, thanks in part to a leadoff double from pinch-hitter Bryan Erstad. The left-handed Erstad, who was 1 for 3 in Saturday’s first game, came off the bench when Mississippi (35-27) switched to a right-hander and chopped a double between Ole Miss third baseman Brian Pettway and the third base bag to start a rally. After failing to lay down a sacrifice, No. 9 hitter Shawn Smarsh singled through the right side, forcing the Rebels to intentionally walk Nick Blasi and load the bases with no outs. Catcher Charlie Waite did well to short-hop a throw from second baseman Chad Sterbens to get a force out at home, but RBI leader Drew Moffitt hit a deep sacrifice fly to center field to score Smarsh with the winning run.


Stephenson said after the afternoon game that Wichita State needed a strong outing from starter David Sanders, but the lefthander struggled in the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, a walk, and another double to quickly fall behind 2-0. Ole Miss center fielder Seth Smith was then picked off second on back-to-back pickoff throws, killing some Rebel momentum.


Wichita State got a run back in the bottom of the first on an RBI single from Cody Clark after Mississippi’s starter, left-handed freshman Brae Wright, also struggled with his control. The Shockers then tied the game in the bottom of the second on a two-out RBI double from Blasi just inside the first-base bag.


Stephenson had to take out Sanders after he gave up another run in the third, but the righty Henderson recovered from allowing a leadoff double to strand two runners in scoring position. Mississippi’s defense, which made two errors in its first game earlier today, came to the forefront again in the bottom of the third.


Wichita State third baseman Brandon Green grounded to Pettway at third, but he airmailed his throw well over Stephen Head at first base for a two-base error. Wichita State took advantage, as a Clark sacrifice fly tied the game once again. Pettway did make amends of sorts by saving an errant throw on a double steal to prevent a run from scoring. Both Wright and the Wichita State bullpen settled in from there, holding the game 3-3 until the seventh.


“Our starting pitchers in both games [today] really faltered, but the relief pitchers stepped in,” Stephenson said. “The defense played outstanding, and I think that was the difference in the game.”


Henderson got big double plays to get out of the fifth and sixth innings before turning it over to the veteran Kerbs in the seventh. The left-hander allowed a leadoff single and then failed to get an out on a sacrifice bunt attempt. A successful sacrifice left runners at second and third with one out and Ole Miss RBI leader Head at the plate. Kerbs got the freshman to pop up on the infield before getting Sterbens to ground out and end the threat.


Wichita State again capitalized on Ole Miss defense to take the lead in the bottom of the seventh. Rebel head coach Mike Bianco pulled Wright in favor of freshman right-hander Anthony Cupps after a leadoff walk. When Cupps fell behind 2-0 in the count, Stephenson started Smarsh from first on a hit-and-run play. Blasi grounded to the right side with the second baseman Sterbens covering, but the grounder rolled up Sterbens’ arm and into right-center field. Smarsh reached third, where he scored on Green’s double-play ball after Bianco elected not to bring his infield in.


All the momentum was with Wichita State, but Pettway led off the eighth with a long home run to left field off of Kerbs that dramatically tied the game. Stephenson was forced to use closer Mike Dennis to get out of a jam in the eighth after Matt Mossberg doubled down the left-field line.


Extra innings seemed in the cards until Erstad’s double to open the bottom of the ninth, which was eerily similar to Mossberg’s an inning earlier. In the end, Bianco saw the game as a microcosm for the Ole Miss season.


“This game sums up the whole year,” Bianco said. “We couldn’t get over the hump. We weren’t good enough defensively and offensively. We just didn’t get the big hit, much like last night.”


It was the second win in two nights for the third-seeded Shockers over the second-seeded Rebels after a 4-2 win in the tournament opener for both teams. As usual, Stephenson was typically glib when downplaying his team’s chances to beat Rice twice after the Owls’ 10-1 victory earlier Saturday.


“They humiliated us, they beat us like a drum,” Stephenson said. “We’re physically worn out. I don’t want to say it’s a snowball’s chance in Hell, but it’s pretty close to that.”


Stephenson said Matt Jakubov will start Sunday’s 1 p.m. game, while Rice head coach Wayne Graham declined to name his starter. It will likely be one of two sophomore right-handers: Wade Townsend or Josh Baker.