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Baseball Preview: Houston

Author: goshockers.com

 Baseball Preview: Houston

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Houston (15-14, 2-1 American) vs. Wichita State (17-11, 2-1 American) Thursday, April 6 | 6:00 pm CT | Wichita, Kansas (Eck Stadium) TV: ESPN+ | Radio: KFH 97.5 FM/1240 AM RHP Josh Ekness (1-2, 5.28) vs. RHP Clark Candiotti (3-2, 3.38) Friday, April 7 | 6:00 pm CT | Wichita, Kansas (Eck Stadium) TV: ESPN+ | Radio: KFH 97.5 FM/1240 AM RHP Paul Schmitz (1-2, 3.94) vs.

LHP Payton Tolle (6-0, 3.07) Saturday, April 8 | 12:00 pm CT | Wichita, Kansas (Eck Stadium) TV: ESPN+ | Radio: KFH 97.5 FM/1240 AM TBA vs. RHP Grant Adler (3-1, 2.75) SCENE SETTER: Wichita State returns to the friendly confines of Eck Stadium this week for a three-game American Athletic Conference series against Houston.

The series will run Thursday through Saturday due to Easter Sunday. The Shockers have won seven of their last eight games, including a 13-6 road win over #16 Oklahoma State on Tuesday night in Stillwater. The victory snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Cowboys, and was the first time since 2018 the Shockers have defeated Oklahoma State on the road.

The 13 runs is the most the Shockers have scored in Stillwater since the 1992 season. Over the last eight games, the Shockers have plated 80 runs, an average of 10 per contest. SHOCKER BASEBALL ON THE RADIO AND ESPN PLUS: KFH 97.5 FM/1240 AM will once again serve as the radio home for Wichita State baseball broadcasts in 2023.

"The Voice of the Shockers" and Pizza Hut Shocker Sports Hall of Famer Mike Kennedy will handle the play-by-play duties against the Cougars. All three games will also be streamed live on ESPN+ ($), with former Shocker pitcher (1991-94) and Pizza Hut Shocker Sports Hall of Famer Shane Dennis on the call.

Live audio, in addition to live statistics, will be available for all games at GoShockers.com/listen and ShockerStats.com. SERIES HISTORY: The Shockers and Cougars have met 59 times, with Houston holding a 37-22 lead in the all-time series. Since Wichita State restarted the baseball program in 1978, the Cougars lead the series 16-14.

Houston took two of three games in each of the two regular season series in 2022, plus a 10-7 win over the Shockers at The American conference tournament in Clearwater. All told, the Cougars claimed five of seven meetings a year ago. The two teams have had a series history littered with streaks; Houston won seven straight games from 2018 through the first meeting in 2021, then the Shockers answered with nine victories in a row from 2021 through the first game of last season's series.

The Shockers and Cougars also played the first-ever game at Riverfront Stadium in downtown Wichita, a 10-1 win on April 10 in front of 7,509 fans. SCOUTING HOUSTON: Houston enters play on Thursday with a 15-14 record, including a 2-1 mark in American Athletic Conference play after an opening weekend series win against preseason conference favorite East Carolina.

The Cougars arrive in Wichita following a wild walk-off win over Rice on Tuesday, a 14-13 victory in which Houston trailed 11-5 entering the bottom of the sixth inning. The game featured a combined 14 pitchers and 32 total hits, including Cameron Nickens' walk-off infield single in the bottom of the ninth.

The Cougars feature an athletic lineup with speed from top to bottom, racking up a league-best 53 steals that ranks 22nd nationally. Two-way talent Malachi Lott paces the offense with a .370 average and 10 extra-base hits. Houston is also solid defensively, with a .977 team fielding percentage that tops the circuit.

The pitching staff has struggled to a 6.25 ERA, hampered by control issues that have resulted in an average of 5.3 walks per nine innings. Head coach Todd Whitting is in his 13th season leading his alma mater, with a 397-301 record at the helm of the Cougars. OFF AND RUNNING: Wichita State stole just 36 bases in 57 attempts last season, an average of 0.6 swipes per contest.

First-year head coach Loren Hibbs made it a point of emphasis for the Shockers to be more aggressive on the bases, and the numbers bear out that focus. In 2023, WSU is 42-for-56 in stolen base attempts through 28 games (1.5 per game), and have improved their success rate from 63.1% to 75.0%. The Shockers have stolen 22 bases over the last eight games, including three in Tuesday's win at Oklahoma State. GRAND SALAMI(S): Wichita State had not recorded a grand slam through the first 26 games of the 2023 season, but has now connected for one each in each of the last two games.

Garrett Pennington cleared the bases in Sunday's series finale at Cincinnati, and Brock Rodden repeated the feat with a fourth inning grand slam on Tuesday at Oklahoma State. The Shockers have never had three straight games with a grand slam. YES HE CAM: After limping to an 11.91 ERA over the first six appearances of 2023, junior right-hander Cameron Bye has turned a corner since moving to the back-end of the Shocker bullpen.

Bye has closed out three WSU victories over the last nine days, striking out eight over 3.1 scoreless innings while allowing just one hit. EVERYBODY HITS: All nine Wichita State starters recorded at least one hit in Tuesday's victory at Oklahoma State, led by two hits apiece from Payton Tolle , Mauricio Millan , David Herring and Jack Little .

Millan reached base in all five of his at-bats, adding three walks to go along with his two hits. GET 'EM ON, GET 'EM OVER, GET 'EM IN: One major contributing factor to Wichita State's offensive resurgence in 2023 is the Shockers ability to get the leadoff man on base. When opening an inning this season, WSU hitters are 100-for-239, an incredible .418 batting average.

The Shockers then score runners from third with less than two outs 66.3% of the time. CLOSER COMMITTEE: By slamming the door with three scoreless innings in last Friday's win against Cincinnati, Wichita State reliever Caden Favors joined the growing list of Shocker bullpen arms with a save in 2023.

The Shockers now have five saves as a team this season from five different players, all five of which entered the season with no prior saves in their career ( Cameron Bye , Robert Cranz , Jace Miner and Nate Snead ). WORKING ON THE WEEKEND: The Wichita State weekend rotation of Clark Candiotti , Payton Tolle and Grant Adler has been remarkably consistent through the first seven weekends of the 2023 season.

The trio has combined for a 12-3 record, a 3.06 ERA, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 139:31 (4.5:1). The Shockers have had just two games in which a weekend starter has walked more than two batters. WHO NEEDS A DH?: Two-way sophomore Payton Tolle is off to a phenomenal start to 2023, with a 6-0 record on the mound and a team-best .368 batting average.

His numbers go to another level on days in which the lefty is pitching; on his seven start days, Tolle is hitting .500 (14-for-28) with three of his six home runs and 13 runs batted in. Tolle did not hit and pitch on the same day last season in an effort to manage his workload. BACK IN THE SADDLE: Interim head coach Loren Hibbs is in his first season leading the Shockers after taking over for Eric Wedge in December of 2022.

Hibbs starred as a record-setting outfielder for the Shockers, helping WSU to the program's first-ever CWS appearance in 1982, and still holds the NCAA record for single-season runs scored with 125. He then served as an assistant under legendary Shocker head coach Gene Stephenson before moving on to Charlotte, where Hibbs guided the 49ers for 27 seasons and more than 800 wins.

He returned to the Wichita State program following 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, most of any club in the league. Infielder Brock Rodden , outfielder Chuck Ingram , designated hitter Payton Tolle and right-handed pitcher Cameron Bye were all selected, with Rodden tabbed as the conference's Preseason Player of the Year.

Despite the league-best four honorees, Wichita State was picked fifth in the eight-team American Athletic Conference preseason poll. RODDEN RETURN: Infielder Brock Rodden burst on to the scene as one of college baseball's most impactful players in 2022. The Seminole State transfer led the Shockers in batting average (.338), on-base percentage (.441) and slugging percentage (.653) while launching 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 10th Round of the 2022 MLB Draft (pick 304 overall) but elected not to sign, one of just three players chosen in the top ten rounds to do so.

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