When Gene Stephenson arrived
at Wichita State after his hiring in the spring of 1977, he found nothing. No
team, no field, no equipment, no tradition, not even a baseball. The program
had been dormant for seven years and did not have any history of success.
Today, WSU's program is one of the best and most recognizable in
the country and Stephenson is respected by his peers as one of the top coaches
in Division I college baseball.
Consider the following. Not only has Stephenson won more games in
35 years than any other Division I program, earned his 1,200th career win in 22
seasons, quicker than any other Division I baseball coach, and has a career
record of 1,798-647-3 record (.735). He currently sits in second place
among active coaches in number of victories with 1,798 and on April 17, 2004,
he moved into second place on the all-time wins list as he passed former Texas
coach Cliff Gustafson. On May 21, 2003, he became just the third coach in
Division I history to reach the 1,400-win plateau, on May 21, 2005, he became
just the second coach in Division I history to reach the 1,500-win plateau and
on May 25, 2007, he became the second coach in Division I history to reach
1,600 wins. On April 4, 2010, he won his 1,700th career game.
WSU supplanted Oklahoma State as the dominant college baseball
power in the Midwest in 1988, and has qualified for the CWS five times since
then. The Shockers have qualified for NCAA tournament play 27 times in the last
32 years, including a school-record 14-straight from 1987-2000.
Wichita State reached the pinnacle of college baseball in 1989,
winning the College World Series championship with a 5-3 win against Texas in
the title game, but the seed for the school's first-ever NCAA team championship
had been planted for many years.
Stephenson arrived in Wichita after having spent five years as an
assistant to Enos Semore in a very successful program at the University of Oklahoma.
As recruiting coordinator and hitting instructor, Stephenson helped guide the
Sooners to five Big Eight Conference championships and five CWS appearances.
Very few people understood Stephenson's decision to come to
Wichita State, but from the beginning, Stephenson made it clear he intended to
challenge for a national championship.
Progress toward that goal was made in his very first season, 1978,
when the Shockers posted a 43-30-1 record. Late in that season, Wichita State
played its first on-campus home game. The Shockers opened the season playing at
McAdams Field and West Side Athletic Field - city ballparks - but finished the
season at Shocker Field, site of what is now Eck Stadium-Home of Tyler Field.
A 65-15 mark followed in 1979, and the year was 1980 when
Stephenson and the Shockers made their first NCAA tournament appearance.
Wichita State reeled off four-consecutive victories to win its first Missouri
Valley Conference tournament title, and entered the Midwest Regional with a
53-10-1 record, subsequently losing to Missouri and California.
In 1981, the Shockers finished 56-15 after winning the Valley's
Western Division title and advancing to the Atlantic Regional in Clemson, S.C.
Wichita State won its opening-round game against host Clemson before suffering
consecutive losses to Mississippi State and East Tennessee State.
Wichita State's 1982 squad, called by many the greatest collegiate
team ever assembled, lifted the Shockers into the national spotlight. Led by
NCAA Player-of-the-Year Phil Stephenson, and NCAA Pitcher-of-the-Year Bryan
Oelkers and five others who earned All-America honors, the Shockers rolled
through regular-season play with a 63-12 mark. After claiming its second Valley
tournament championship with three-straight wins, Wichita State cruised through
the South Regional in New Orleans, La., allowing just one run in 27 innings to
claim its first regional title and CWS appearance.
The Shockers went 3-2 in their first-ever CWS appearance,
suffering both losses to Miami, including a 9-3 setback in the championship
game. Wichita State opened play with a 7-0 win over Cal State-Fullerton and
followed a 4-3 loss to Miami with wins against Oklahoma State, 13-2, and Texas,
8-4. The Shockers established an NCAA record with 73 wins in 87 games, a mark
which still stands today.
Stephenson's 1983 Shocker team finished regular-season play with a
No. 1 ranking and a 53-14 record, but went 1-2 in both the Valley tourney and
the Midwest Regional in Stillwater, Okla., after suffering several key
The Shockers missed out on postseason play in 1984, but returned
strongly in 1985, the year they moved into their new on-campus facility. Eck
Stadium, with a seating capacity of 3,400, was constructed around Shocker
Field, and for the first time, Shocker fans had access to seating, concessions
and restrooms, and media had the ability to cover the Shockers in the comfort
of a press box.
The Shockers won their third Valley tournament title in 1985, and
once again were sent to Stillwater, Okla., to play in the Midwest Regional on
the home field of the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Shocker-Cowboy series had
developed into a heated rivalry, fueled by the competitive nature of Stephenson
and then-OSU coach Gary Ward, who was hired at Oklahoma State the same year
Stephenson revived the Shockers' program.
The Shockers forced No. 1-ranked Oklahoma State, led that year by
All-America player Pete Incaviglia - the single-season and career NCAA record
holder for home runs, into a second championship game before dropping a 10-6
Since missing out on postseason play in 1986, Wichita State had
been to the NCAA tournament 14-consecutive years, before again missing out in
In 1987, the Shockers played in the West I Regional in Palo Alto,
Calif., and in 1988, WSU was again sent to Stillwater for another Midwest
Regional. This time the Shocks turned the tables on the No. 1-ranked Cowboys,
downing them two times, including a 15-5 triumph in the second title game, to
return to the College World Series for the second time in history.
Upon reaching Omaha, annually the site of the CWS, the Shockers
moved into the winner's bracket final with wins over Florida and Arizona State.
They appeared on the verge of clinching a berth in the championship game when
they held a 3-1 lead over the Sun Devils, but ASU rallied for an extra-inning
win in that contest and another win two days later, forcing the Shockers to
settle for third place.
The 1988 season held significance for another reason. The old
artificial turf on Shocker Field was replaced with a state-of-the-art
artificial turf and renamed Tyler Field, while other stadium improvements were
made, including the addition of nearly 400 box seats.
Expectations were high as the 1989 season opened and the Shockers
reeled off a school-record 24-game winning streak following a season-opening
loss. Those high hopes were tempered, though, when Wichita State was eliminated
from the Valley tournament and left for Fresno, Calif., as the No. 1 seed in
the West II regional without starters Jeff Bonacquista, an all-Valley
outfielder, and Mike Lansing, an all-America shortstop.
Using a makeshift lineup, the Shockers captured their
second-consecutive regional title with two victories over Michigan on the final
day to gain revenge from an earlier loss to the Wolverines. The script was
similar in Omaha, where the Shockers suffered a second-game loss to Florida
State and were forced to battle back through the loser's bracket. A home run
from reserve catcher Mike Wentworth, who also had homered in the regional,
stalwart pitching from eventual Most Valuable Player Greg Brummett, relief
standout Jim Newlin and clutch play from Eric Wedge, Mike McDonald and Pat
Meares keyed the Shockers' run to Wichita State's first NCAA team title.
Brummett tossed a six-hitter against the Longhorns in the final, and Meares'
two-run homer in the fifth inning was the big blow offensively in the
championship game. In all, Wichita State survived potential elimination six
times en route to the title.
In 1990 the Shockers finally received a bid to hold an NCAA
regional tournament in Wichita, but were eliminated in three games at Eck
Stadium-Tyler Field. The Shockers received another opportunity to play host to
a regional in 1991, and used the home field advantage to capture their fourth
regional championship with an 11-5 win over California.
Back in Omaha again, Wichita State rolled unbeaten through its
first three games to earn a spot opposite Louisiana State in the championship
game. The Tigers stopped the Shockers, 6-3, ending dreams of a second national
title in three years.
Wichita State again captured a regional title in Eck Stadium-Tyler
Field in 1992, but was eliminated from the CWS after two games with losses to
Pepperdine and Oklahoma. The regional title came at the expense of arch-rival
Oklahoma State, which was playing in a Wichita State-hosted Midwest Regional
for the first time. An Eck Stadium-record crowd of 8,103 braved a cool, rainy
day to watch the Shockers' 5-2 championship game victory.
The spring of 1992 also saw the partial completion of the Phase
III expansion at Eck Stadium, increasing seating capacity to nearly 5,600 and
providing additional box seating, concessions areas and restrooms. The remainder
of the project was completed in the fall of 1992, when the staff and players
moved into their new offices and locker room, respectively. An indoor workout
area and an All-American room were also added.
While the spring of 1993 marked the first full season in the
newly-improved Eck Stadium-Tyler Field complex, the season will be remembered
most for the Shockers' sterling performance in the Atlantic Regional and their
run to the championship game in the CWS. Playing on the road in regional play
for the first time in four years, the Shockers hit Atlanta, Ga., running,
capturing thrilling one-run decisions against South Carolina and host Georgia
Tech, and a 5-3 championship game win over Ohio State to advance to Omaha once
again. In Omaha, the Shockers continued their march on college baseball,
qualifying for the championship game with consecutive wins against Arizona
State, Texas and Oklahoma State. Unfortunately for WSU fans, LSU freshman Brett
Laxton ended the miracle run with a 16-strikeout performance in the Tigers' 8-0
championship game triumph.
In 1994, Wichita State conquered the Valley with its
eighth-straight regular-season title, and played host to the Valley Tournament
and the NCAA Midwest II Regional.
Again, in 1995, a season in which Stephenson earned his 1,000th
career victory, the Shockers controlled the Missouri Valley Conference
regular-season title, and played host to the Midwest Baseball Regional.
Stephenson's 1,000th win, which came May 13 in the final home
series of the Valley season against Creighton, allowed him to become the first
collegiate baseball coach to reach the 1,000-win plateau in as few as 18
seasons. The Shockers went on to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the
ninth-straight season, and 14th time overall.
WSU returned to the CWS for the seventh time overall and the
fourth time in the previous six years with four-straight wins in the 1996
Midwest Regional, which was held in Wichita for the third-straight year and the
sixth time out of a possible seven in the 1990's.
Nine seniors and 11 newcomers helped lead WSU to the 1996 CWS
where WSU lost to eventual National Champion Louisiana State, 9-8, before
losing to Florida State, 8-4. The Shockers finished 54-11 overall with their
10th-straight Valley regular-season title and seventh NCAA Regional title.
Wichita State also boasted its third first-round draft pick in the
last four years in reliever Braden Looper, who was the third pick overall by
the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 1997, the Shockers again advanced to an NCAA regional despite
injuries to starters Joey Blue, a third baseman, Zach Sorensen, a shortstop,
and second baseman Kevin Hooper. The Shockers, a fourth seed, went 0-2 at the
South II regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., with losses to North Carolina State,
10-9, and CWS qualifier Alabama, 6-2, to finish 51-18 overall. The 51-win total
brought WSU's total 50-plus win seasons to 15 under Stephenson.
In 1998, the Shockers won the Valley regular season crown for the
12th-straight year with a 26-1 record. WSU dominated offensively in
league play scoring 10-or-more runs in 18 league games, and 10 games in a row
during one stretch. Also, in 1998 WSU won the Valley Tournament for the
first time since 1993, going undefeated in four games.
In the Midwest Regional, though, the Shockers couldn't get their
high-powered offense into gear, as WSU went 1-2. After an opening game
victory over Southeast Missouri State, 7-4, the Shocks lost a 3-2 game in 10
innings, despite an outstanding pitching performance by senior lefty Steve
Foral. The next day working out of the losers' bracket, the Shockers'
season ended in a 6-4 defeat to eventual CWS runner-up Arizona State.
The 1998 season was a huge success as WSU led the nation in five
statistical categories including winning percentage and batting average.
Individually, sophomore slugger Pat Magness led the nation in batting average
(.464), while junior second baseman Kevin Hooper was first in runs-per-game
(1.77). The team also produced six All-Americans in Jeff Ryan, Pat
Magness, Zach Sorensen, Marc Bluma, Kevin Hooper, and freshman All-American
In 1999, WSU continued its winning ways, posting a 59-14 record,
including a 13th-straight Valley regular-season title, and a second-straight
Valley tournament title. Led by All-Americans Marc Bluma, Kevin Hooper,
Pat Magness, and Koyie Hill, the Shockers finished 2-2 in the Wichita Regional,
the eighth WSU-hosted regional. After opening regional play with
back-to-back victories versus Oral Roberts and UCLA, WSU dropped consecutive
games to Oklahoma State, 11-8, and 7-6, on the final day.
In 2000, WSU finished 44-21, won its 14th consecutive Valley
regular-season title, 11th Valley tournament title, and 19th NCAA Regional bid,
their 14th straight. The Shockers finished 2-2 in the Minnesota Regional,
after opening regional play with a 10-7 loss to host Minnesota. WSU then
won back-to-back games versus Butler and Minnesota before losing 8-1 to
Nebraska in the championship game.
The 2001 season saw the Shockers win more than 40 games for
the 24th-consecutive year. WSU finished 42-24, but finished runner-up in
The Valley and was not granted an NCAA postseason berth for the first time
The Shockers won back the Valley regular season title in 2002 along with
the Valley Tournament title. WSU finished 47-17 and earned a regional and
a No. 1 seed. In the first round of the Wichita Regional, Oral Roberts
defeated the Shocks 6-1. WSU came back and won the elimination game over
Oklahoma, 8-4, but fell to ORU a second time, 15-8.
In 2003, the Shockers won their 13th Valley Tournament title and made
their 21st NCAA appearance. WSU finished the season 49-27 to earn a No. 3
seed in the Houston Regional. In the first round, the Shocks defeated
Mississippi 4-2 to earn a match up with No. 1 Rice. The Owls would defeat
WSU 10-1 and force the Shockers to play Ole Miss again.
WSU won the rematch 5-4 to make it to the championship game
against Rice. The Owls would win, 5-2 to end the Shockers season.
Led by 10 seniors, the Shockers finished 49-16 overall and 28-4 in
the Missouri Valley Conference in 2004. The 28 wins were the most in
Valley history as the Shockers won the Valley regular-season and tournament
titles. WSU advanced to the Fayetteville Regional where they fell to
Arkansas twice on the final day.
In 2005, WSU won 51 games, the 18th time Stephenson has led the
Shockers to 50 or more wins in a season. The 51 wins were impressive
considering the Shockers played many freshmen and dealt with many
injuries. Despite those factors, the Shockers advanced to the NCAA
Regional championship game for the third-straight year falling to Tennessee in
the Knoxville Regional. Junior pitcher Mike Pelfrey became the 10th
Shocker to be taken in the first round of the MLB Draft in June. Pelfrey
finished his career as the all-time Shocker leader in ERA with a 2.18 mark.
The Shocks went 46-22 in 2006 and advanced to their 24th NCAA
Tournament. In the Norman Regional, WSU defeated National Player of the
Year Brad Lincoln in the first round before scoring 18 runs against TCU, a
Shocker record for regional play. WSU ended its season with two losses to
Oklahoma. Joe Carter/Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year Damon
Sublett earned All-America honors despite a late season injury, while Aaron
Shafer became the first player in conference history to win the MVC Pitcher of
the Year and Freshman of the Year awards.
The 2007 squad gave Stephenson something he was missing on his
resume - a trip to a Super Regional. The Shockers finished the season
53-22 and won its 18th Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title.
WSU hosted a Regional for the 10th time and defeated Arizona in the
championship game, 3-0, to advance to its first-ever Super Regional. The
Shockers lost two one-run games to UC Irvine in the Super Regional in front of
a school-record 8,153 fans at Eck Stadium. Wichita State made its
way back to Super Regional play in 2008 as the Shockers finished 48-17 overall
and 19-5 in the Missouri Valley Conference. WSU won its 19th MVC
regular-season title and 16th Valley Tournament title before traveling to
Stillwater, Okla., for NCAA Regionals. The Shockers swept through
Regional play defeating TCU and host Oklahoma State twice, including an 11-7
win over the Cowboys in the championship game. Clint McKeever hit a grand
slam in the top of the 10th inning to send the Shockers to their
second-straight Super Regional. WSU traveled to Tallahassee, Fla., to
take on Florida State in a best-of-three series and won the first game before
falling to the Seminoles in the final two games.
The Shocks won the 2009 MVC Tournament and advanced to their 27th
NCAA Tournament. In the summer of 2009, construction of the new indoor
practice facility began along with new turf on the infield and outfield at Eck
In 2010, the Shockers won their 20th Missouri Valley Conference
regular-season title and won 40 or more games for the 32nd time in
Stephenson's 33 seasons as WSU finished 41-19.
Beyond his accomplishments at WSU, Stephenson has become a leader
and a spokesman for college baseball. Eighteen years ago he introduced to The
Valley the concept of a 20- and 90-second clock to promote quicker play.
He also speaks frequently on behalf of the Wichita State endowment
and alumni associations at university events throughout the country. Stephenson
is in high demand at trade shows and coaching clinics, and he often is a guest
speaker at local and national corporate meetings, providing inspirational and
motivational talks. He commonly makes appearances locally on behalf of charity.
Stephenson, a 1968 graduate of the University of Missouri,
attended his first year on a football scholarship. He found more success in
baseball, leading the Big Eight in hitting one year and earning all-league
honors and All-America honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association in
1967 as well as serving as team captain.
After a year at his alma mater as a graduate assistant on the
baseball staff, Stephenson served a three-year stint in the United States Army,
spending one year in Vietnam. Upon his return to the U.S., Stephenson
took an assistant coaching position under Enos Semore at Oklahoma.
Stephenson, along with his younger brother, Phil, was inducted
into the Guthrie High School Hall of Fame in 1994. A four-sport standout,
he was a first team all-state honoree in football and baseball in his senior
Stephenson, 67, has two children, Jay, 42, and Ginny, 39, and five
grandchildren and one great-grandson.