Wichita State’s Zair Koeiman saw the ball rolling free and wasn’t sure what happened as he rounded second base. He did know he could get to third base.
“I was 100 percent sure I was going to make it,” Koeiman said.
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He did. Barely. Nothing is a sure thing when the Shockers run the bases, but they played it aggressively on Sunday in an 8-4 win over Bradley and executed well enough to complete the series sweep.
“I didn’t know if he was out or safe,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “As long as he’s safe, I’m OK with it. If he’s out I have a problem with it. He read it and took off. Any time a player is playing with instincts, that’s a good thing.”
WSU stole three bases — two by first baseman Casey Gillaspie — forced three Bradley errors and got down five sacrifice bunts. On a day when the Shockers managed a mere seven hits and starter Sam Tewes struggled, small ball came through.
The Shockers (25-23, 9-6 Missouri Valley Conference) defeated last-place Bradley (21-23, 4-14) for the 19th straight time and the 33rd at Eck Stadium. The sweep moved them into a three-way tie for third in the MVC with two conference weekends remaining.
WSU had to rally Sunday, despite facing a threadbare Braves pitching staff. Tewes, falling behind and pitching tentatively, gave up home runs to Greg Partyka and Evan Gruener to put WSU in a 4-2 hole. WSU’s Dayne Parker tied it with his two-run home run in the fifth.
That was all for the power on a hot and windy day. The Shockers carried off the rest while rarely hitting the ball out of the infield.
“We bunted our way back into it,” Butler said.
Koeiman started the sixth inning with a single. Dearman bunted him to second and Koeiman raced to third when a collision at first separated the ball from Bradley’s fielders. He scored on Garrett Bayliff’s squeeze bunt. After Bradley intentionally walked Casey Gillaspie, he stole second. His slide sent the ball bouncing toward left field and Dearman scored from third for a 6-4 lead.
Bradley’s defense continued its slide in the seventh, leading to two more runs. First baseman Drew Carlile dropped Tyler Baker’s ground ball, allowing Baker to reach first. He stole second — his first of the season — and moved to third on a wild pitch. Parker’s single scored Baker. Parker got to third after Koeiman’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly by Dearman for an 8-4 lead.
“You’ve got to play aggressive to win,” Butler said. “There’s a time to be aggressive and there’s a time to be station to station. That’s kind of a feel for the game.”
The Shockers lack that feel too often, especially during last month’s eight-game losing streak and a recent stretch of four losses in five games. On Sunday, good execution led to good base-running and Bradley’s leaky defense and pitching helped.
“I told Coach Butler, before the (sixth) inning started, that when Z got on I was going to push bunt,” Dearman said. “I laid down a good bunt for the first time this year. It’s been a struggle.”
WSU’s offense took control while reliever Aaron LaBrie took all the aggressiveness away from the Braves. He pitched three shutout innings after replacing Tewes in the fifth, allowing only a harmless single in the eighth inning. The Braves grounded out weakly three times in the sixth after off-balance swings. LaBrie mixed in a flyball and a strikeout in the seventh. In the eighth, he erased Partyka’s leadoff single with a strikeout, flyball and a groundball.
“He was throwing strikes and expanding the ball off the plate and getting some easy outs,” Butler said.
Tewes struggled with his control early and Bradley got aggressive. In the second inning, Partyka hit the first pitch over the right-field wall for a 1-0 lead. Tyler Leffler hit the next pitch for a ground-rule double and Evan Gruener took the next pitch to right. Leffler scored on a groundball out for a 2-0 lead.
WSU responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Daniel Kihle’s sacrifice fly scored Micah Green, who walked to lead off the inning. Bayliff’s two-out double drove in Zair Koeiman to tie the game.
Tewes got on track by retiring the first two hitters in the third, but he couldn’t finish it off. Leffler singled and Gruener hit his first home run for a 4-2 lead.
On a Sunday, Bradley’s pitching depth soon wore out. The Shockers took advantage with a display of baseball smarts their coach wants to see more often.