Summer 2006

Just in Case

Aaron Shafer
Aaron Shafer, a starting pitcher shown above during WSU’s
loss to Creighton in the MVC tourney, went 11-3 with a 2.63
ERA and 77 strikeouts in 99 1/3 innings pitched. He became
the first freshman to win MVC Pitcher of the Year and Fresh-
man of the Year honors in the same season. He set the
school record for victories by a freshman, was named to 
the All-Regional team at the Norman Regional and lauded
as a Freshman All-American and a third-team All-American
by Collegiate Baseball

Deep down, Wichita State pitcher Aaron Shafer knew the answer was going to be a firm “no,” but he asked anyway.

He waited a while, and then he asked again.

Still no.

Before we offer a full explanation, the gist of the story is this: Shafer wanted the ball.

As a freshman. On short rest. With the season on the line.

He wanted the ball.

“That’s the type of kid he is,” Shocker pitching coach Brent Kemnitz says.

Behind seven strong innings from Shafer, the Shockers edged Houston 2-1 in the opening game of an NCAA regional on June 2 in Norman, Okla.

It was an impressive performance from Shafer, who rebounded from his only poor outing — a 2 1/3-inning disaster in a lopsided loss to Creighton in the conference tournament — to beat Houston and ace Brad Lincoln, who, days later, was the fourth pick in the Major League Baseball draft. The Shockers followed by beating Texas Christian University but missed a chance to win the regional by losing to OU in the first championship game June 4.

Shocker baseball players
The 2006 Shockers set high expectations for 2007
with impressive wins over OU, Houston, Long
Beach State and Southern Cal plus a fiery
performance at the Norman Regional. But
inconsistency was the name of the game this
season, as WSU managed only one win (8-5
against Bradley) in the MVC Tournament played
at Eck Stadium.

The next night, the Shockers again faced the Sooners in a winner-take-all game.

That’s when Shafer began, in his words, “lobbying like crazy” to pitch. “I wanted in so bad,” he says.

There was much discussion about bringing back Shafer on just three days’ rest. Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz called for the move, and it was a popular topic on local talk radio.

“I wanted in so bad I could taste it,” Shafer says.

But coach Gene Stephenson and Kemnitz avoided the temptation.

“We’re not going to sacrifice our values or a kid’s arm to win a game,” Kemnitz says. “We’re as competitive as anybody in the country, but there’s a line you draw. His parents called after the whole deal was over and thanked us for taking care of him.”

The Shockers lost the game 7-6. And while Shafer didn’t throw, the fact that he wanted to so badly was revealing to Kemnitz.

“That’s the type of makeup he has,” Kemnitz says. “He believes in himself.”

“An unbelievable year”

That determination and confidence, along with an effective assortment of pitches, of course, helped Shafer turn in one of the best freshman seasons in Shocker history. The 6-foot-4 right-hander went 11-3 with a 2.63 ERA, striking out 77 hitters and walking just 22 in 99 1/3 innings. The 11 wins were the most ever by a Wichita State freshman.

Kenny Waddell
From the May 25 win is senior Kenny
Waddell, running for third (he doesn’t
quite make it).

In a matter-of-fact manner, Shafer says he anticipated the success.

“I have really high expectations of myself, so I expected to make an impact from Day 1,” relates Shafer, who also complimented catcher Brandon Hall for his work behind the plate. “Coming here, I didn’t think I would be overmatched. I knew college hitters would be tougher outs, so I would just have to make better pitches and not make many mistakes.”

Midway through the season, Shafer took over the coveted and important role of Friday night starter, and he was named the Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the year.

Further, he was selected a third-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a freshman make All-American,” Kemnitz says. “This wasn’t freshman All-American, either, it was the regular All-American team. Darren Dreifort, Braden Looper, Mike Pelfrey — those guys didn’t even do it.

“Aaron just had an unbelievable year. For a freshman, the kind of consistency he showed is unheard of.”

Shafer throws a two and four-seam fastball in the 88-92 mph range, and he has developed a “really good changeup,” Kemnitz says.

In addition, Shafer has an effective curve — maybe too effective. Kemnitz says Shafer sometimes relies too much on the breaking pitch.

“I just fell into using the off-speed stuff too much and not keeping guys honest with my fastball,” Shafer says. “I have to remember my fastball is good, and if I get to where I can spot it all the time, I’m going to be very tough to hit.”

Shocker baseball players
WSU will return many key players next season, to
name just two: Damon Sublett, plagued by illness
and injury but when healthy hit .394 with a team-
leading 10 home runs as the second baseman; and
third baseman Conor Gillaspie, who hit .352 and
became the first freshman to lead WSU in RBIs
(67) since Shocker great Joe Carter in 1979.

“It’s every ballplayer’s dream”

It’s little wonder Shafer is excelling as a Shocker. After all, he comes from a baseball family and grew up with the sport. 

A farm boy from Moscow Hills, Mo., a small town located about 45 miles northwest of St. Louis, Shafer has fond memories of playing ball with his father.

“From the time I was very young, my dad and I always played catch, wiffle ball or baseball,” Shafer says. “When I was about 6, my dad would flip a rock to me and I would try to hit it with a stick. We’d use anything we could find for a bat.”

His dad was drafted by the Phillies but never signed. His brother plays in the minor leagues.

Not surprisingly, Shafer hopes to play professional baseball – a goal he nearly reached right out of high school when he came close to signing with the Cleveland Indians, who selected him in the 16th round of the draft.

Shafer said the Indians indicated they were going to meet his salary request and even went so far as to take measurements for shoes and a baseball cap. At the last minute, the Indians cut their offer, so Shafer headed to WSU. The lure of pro ball remains.

“I think it’s every ballplayer’s dream,” Shafer says. “Brent knows what it takes to get players there, so I just need to keep listening and getting better. God willing, I can do it.”

The rest of the story

We briefly return to that second regional title game against OU. Remember, Shafer had been told he wasn’t going to throw, and he understood and respected the decision.

Blake Hurlbutt
Junior Blake Hurlbutt scores in the sixth inning on
May 25.

Still, he left his turf shoes in the locker room and wore his pitching cleats during the game. Just in case.

How Aaron Shafer’s freshman season compared to other Shocker greats.
                             Rec.    IP       H     BB    K    ERA    Svs
Darren Dreifort    9-2     78.1    62    29    63    2.41    1
Braden Looper    1-2     53       50    15    46    4.08    1
Mike Pelfrey        10-2   104.2   80    15    98    2.49    0
Aaron Shafer      11-3    99.1    87    22    77    2.63     0


Just in Case

Deep down, Wichita State pitcher Aaron Shafer knew the answer was going to be a firm “no,” but he asked anyway.

Kushti Oyinshi

Madina Rakhim, a native of Kazakhstan, had never been to Kansas before arriving in early January to join the Shocker tennis program.

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