Pitching gives WSU a pair of shutout wins
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Senior Willie Schwanke and junior Cody Tyler had set out one goal before the season: staying healthy.
Schwanke was recovering from back injuries from the previous two seasons while Tyler had Tommy John surgery in 2015.
The Shockers were needing pitching aces in their rotation, and Schwanke, drafted in the 22nd round in the 2015 MLB Draft, could provide that if he was able to stay on the mound. Tyler, meanwhile, had established himself as a reliable no. 2 option after only giving up one earned run in WSU’s 16-2 win over Utah Valley on Feb. 18.
“We take pride in being the leaders of the (pitching) staff,” Schwanke said. “We want to set that tone on Saturday itself. Just living together, being around each other all the time, we try to make ourselves better in any way we can. That’s something we really enjoy and keep trying to improve.”
Schwanke dominated the mound on Saturday in game one, pitching 6.2 innings with five strikeouts and not allowing a hit until the top of the sixth inning as the Shockers cruised to a 1-0 victory over Grand Canyon in game one of a doubleheader Saturday.
Tyler would follow in game two, pitching six shutout innings and posting a new career-high of nine strikeouts to allow WSU to sweep the doubleheader with a 5-0 victory in game two.
After Schwanke struck out two GCU batters in the top of the first, sophomore Alec Bohm drove in the game’s first run with a sacrifice grounder. After Schwanke gave up his first hit of the game, a GCU walk followed.
GCU would attempt to sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position, but Schwanke got to the ball and threw the runner out at third. WSU’s infield would follow, converting a 4-6-3 double play to retire the top of sixth and protect their one-run lead.
“That’s probably the ball game,” head coach Todd Butler said. “As well as Willie pitched on the mound, the play that he made on the bunt to get the lead runner on third base and then gets a timely double play and we turned it, that was the ball game. Every pitch is important, but that was a turning point.”
Sophomore Clayton McGinness and senior Reagan Biechler finished the game for the Shockers, combining for three strikeouts while only allowing two hits. Biechler would get his second save of the season as the Shockers forced Grand Canyon to hit .161 in game one.
Tyler started the first two innings by striking out four GCU batters. Freshman Alex Jackson put the Shockers on the board by hitting a two-out single that drove in junior Gunnar Troutwine from second base to move the Shockers ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the second inning.
Jackson would later score Troutwine again from second base with a centerfield single that put the Shockers up 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning.
“Alex has a very good swing for a freshman,” Butler said. “He plays the game very easily and he did a very good job today getting a timely base-hit with two outs. He’s a very good player. The team is really excited to see him be successful.”
Sophomores Greyson Jenista and Dayton Dugas followed later in the inning with two singles that doubled the WSU lead. GCU managed to get the bases loaded with the tying run at the plate in the top of the seventh inning.
“We had a four-run lead there, and that’s good to see,” Tyler said. “It keeps you’re mind going (as a pitcher) and keeps you able to keep doing the same thing you’re doing.”
Senior Landon Holifield came in at relief, coming up with a strikeout that left the bases loaded and kept WSU’s four-run lead in check.
“For our pitching staff to have two shutouts, it’s pretty tough to do in college baseball,” Butler said. “They did a fantastic job as a staff today and tomorrow is a big day with the Sunday game.”
WSU (5-0) will wrap up their series with GCU on Sunday at Eck Stadium at 1 p.m