Wichita State senior pitcher Cale Elam made sure to look around Eck Stadium and savor the sights when he walked off the mound for the final time in the eighth inning.
He certainly deserved that moment after four seasons performing two different, and crucial, roles for the Shockers. On Friday, he he started his 29th game at WSU and earned victory No. 24 in an 8-5 win over Dallas Baptist.
Elam’s night didn’t end in storybook fashion — coach Todd Butler hooked him after a home run — but his final start at home will be fondly remembered for the outcome. Elam started his career as WSU’s closer and totaled 14 saves as a freshman and sophomore. Asked to move to starter as a junior, he excelled at that as well.
For consistency and versatility, it’s hard to top Elam’s career.
“Coming off the mound … kind of take it all in one last time,” he said. “I won’t ever get to do it again.”
WSU (26-24, 10-6 Missouri Valley Conference) needed the win to stay tied with Indiana State for third place in the MVC. Dallas Baptist (31-18, 9-7) dropped out of that pack to fifth.
Elam gave up four earned runs and eight hits in improving to 7-1 this season. Dallas Baptist swung hard and battled with two strikes, ready to hit any mistake. Elam could tell before the game he would need to survive without his normal accuracy.
“Sometimes your arm feels fine, and your control is just not there,” he said. “I couldn’t put it where I wanted it.”
He kept the Patriots under control with five strikeouts, walking one, and help from his defense. Center fielder Daniel Kihle crashed into the wall after running down a shot off Austin Listi’s bat, with a runner on, to end the fifth. Dayne Parker started a double play that erased a leadoff runner in the seventh.
“Whenever they square the ball up, they really put something behind it,” Elam said. “When I made my pitches, I got easy outs.”
Dallas Baptist starter Cy Sneed had no such luck.
The Shockers knocked him out after 3 1/3 innings, pounding him for six hits and seven earned runs. Parker hit a three-run home run in the second inning. Sneed walked the first two batters in the fourth, leading to three more runs and a 7-2 lead.
“We had a lot of two-strike hits,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “We did battle. It’s a good time to be doing those things.”
Parker’s home run, off a slider, followed singles by Simpson and Baker and gave WSU a 3-0 lead in the second inning. Erik Harbutz singled in Micah Green from second for a 4-0 lead.
The Shockers went 4 for 5 with runners in scoring position early in the game, a relief for a team that sometimes endured long droughts without clutch hits. On Friday, WSU hitters put the ball in play and moved runners along.
“We’ve kind of got a theory that whenever runners are in scoring position, we want to take three hacks,” Parker said. “We don’t want to take a pitch. If we see a fastball first pitch, we want to get after it.”
The Shockers added three runs in the fourth, pushing their lead to 7-2. Sneed signaled his end by walking Parker and Zair Koeiman to start the inning. Green bunted them to second and third and Harbutz’s single drove in Parker. Kihle followed with a double to score Koeiman and push Harbutz to third. Garrett Bayliff’s line drive scored Harbutz from third.
Casey Gillaspie homered for the 14th time this season for an 8-2 lead in the seventh.
Dallas Baptist’s Mike Wesolowski homered in the third. The Patriots added another run in the fourth after Justin Wall tripled with one out. R.J. Talamantes’ bloop single scored him to cut WSU’s lead to 4-2.
Elam’s night ended after Austin Listi hammered a line drive over the center field wall, driving in two runs. Elam departed with an 8-4 lead after giving up eight hits in 7 1/3 innings. Butler had no problems with Elam’s outing, which gave the Shockers a chance to win their third straight conference series.
“He worked his way through it because he’s such a competitor,” Butler said.
Butler moved Elam to the series opener in preparation for the MVC Tournament later this month. He is better suited to coming back on short rest than A.J. Ladwig, who starts Saturday. That appears to set up well for WSU, which can lean on the MVC’s ERA-leader (1.16) in its attempt to win the series.
It may also set up well for Ladwig, who is 3-5 this season, often suffering from minuscule run support on Friday nights. Elam enjoyed a different feeling.
“I kind of felt bad for him,” Elam said. “I was giving him a hard time … I was like ‘Maybe you’ll get even more runs on Saturday. That’s usually the day that they score.”