Wichita State has a proud baseball tradition, one that includes a national title, 27 NCAA tournament appearances and seven trips to the College World Series.


Wichita State has a proud baseball tradition, one that includes a national title, 27 NCAA tournament appearances and seven trips to the College World Series.
The last two years, the Shockers have advanced to a super regional. But as they enter this year’s Norman Regional, they find themselves in an unfamiliar role — that of the underdog.
Longtime coach Gene Stephenson didn’t mince words Thursday, saying it would take a “major miracle” for Wichita State (30-25) to win a regional that includes national No. 7 seed Oklahoma (41-18), Southeastern Conference power Arkansas (34-22) and Pac-10 runner-up Washington State (31-23).
Arkansas will play Washington State on Friday in the regional opener at L. Dale Mitchell Park, followed by Wichita State-Oklahoma.
“We have to do a really good job if we want to be in this tournament,” Stephenson said. “There are three outstanding teams in this tournament. We’re not one of them.”
Stephenson built the Wichita State program from nothing in 1978 into a perennial national power, winning the 1989 national title along the way. But for the first time in his 32 years at the helm, the Shockers won’t win at least 40 games this season.
Injuries and the professional draft hit Wichita State hard, leaving the Shockers with only two returning starters and few pitchers with any experience.
The Shockers lost eight straight in one stretch and have hovered around the .500 mark but have won six of their last seven games after an eight-day layoff caused by the weather-related cancellation of a series at Southern Illinois.
“Something happened that never happens in baseball,” Stephenson said. “The eight-day layoff helped us, and I would never say that’s possible. As bad as we were playing, we were faced with going into Southern Illinois, against a team that wasn’t playing well either, and maybe losing three more with the way we were going.
“With the devastation that happened in that area that weekend, not having power in the hotel, and running out of running water, it made us stop and think. We have it pretty good, and we are fortunate to be from where we are. The fact that we got away from the game and thinking about something else and the fact that the guys got to spend some more time together, it made us play better.”
Wichita State beat Creighton 4-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament final on Saturday, a game in which Creighton stranded 17 baserunners. The Shockers also lost their leadoff hitter, Tyler Grimes, who broke his right wrist while sliding into home plate.
“This is our reward for struggling through a tough season and coming back to win the Valley tournament,” first baseman Clint McKeever said. “We’re just looking to having some fun this weekend and play some good baseball. We’ll see what happens.”
Wichita State lost twice to Oklahoma during the regular season, and neither game was close, with the Sooners winning 15-0 in Wichita and 8-1 in Norman. But Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said his team is well aware of the Shockers’ postseason history.
“You can’t overlook anybody but there are some programs that have tradition in postseason and if you look at this Wichita State team, and how far they went last year, they understand the road to Omaha, and what they have to do, and they have experience,” Golloway said.
The other first-round game in the regional is between teams that, surprisingly, are familiar with each other. Washington State opened its season in February by losing three games at Arkansas, all by one or two runs.
“The Washington State series was a long time ago,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “It was opening weekend, and everyone was excited. At the time, we didn’t know how well we would be this year, and we felt Washington State had a pretty good team. They battled us. It could have gone either way, all three games.”
Arkansas also has played Oklahoma this season, having beaten the Sooners 8-7 in 10 innings on April 28 in Fayetteville, while Washington State split an early season four-game series with Oklahoma in Pullman.