Wichita State softball coach Kristi Bredbenner probably learned more about her team Saturday than she learned in the previous 48 games.
Bredbenner can learn even more in the immediate future when she takes account of how the Shockers respond to a doubleheader sweep by Southern Illinois at Wilkins Stadium.
SIU won 2-1 and 10-3, guaranteeing WSU its first Missouri Valley Conference series loss prior to Sunday’s finale and dropping the Shockers (30-20, 17-6) into second place behind Illinois State.
The expectations and pressure may have finally caught up to the Shockers, who are aiming for their first league championship with a lineup that include three freshmen and four sophomores.
“We played scared,” Bredbenner said. “We played afraid to lose. The bottom line is that our girls know what’s on the line these next couple weekends and they’re young and they’re inexperienced, and they’re playing scared. That’s what happens when you play scared, is you tense up and you don’t play your game.”
WSU’s game is usually offense, and the Shockers had little of it Saturday. A leadoff walk to Cacy Williams led to their only run in Game 1, and after escaping a rocky second inning, SIU starter Katie Bertelsen sliced through WSU’s order.
After throwing 44 pitches over the first two innings, Bertelsen got through the next five in 48 pitches, facing one more than the minimum in that stretch. Ali Vandever, who hit the first of two second-inning singles, was the Shockers’ last runner to reach scoring position.
Bertelsen had one strikeout but forced WSU to swing early in the count and make weak contact as she worked all corners of the strike zone.
“I think we had a lot of solid hits and they were right to people,” Williams said. “I would say she was mixing it up pretty well, but we’ll see her again (Sunday) so hopefully we can change that up.”
SIU broke a 1-1 tie with a fifth-inning home run by Merri Anne Patterson, and the Salukis used the homer to create momentum in Game 2, as Kelsey Gonzalez and Meredith Wilson each delivered in the second inning.
The Shockers eventually tied 3-3, but after a solid start by Kaitlyn Malone in the early game, all of WSU’s pitchers were hurt in Game 2.
Sloan Anderson started and finished the game; neither of the Shockers’ relievers could rescue her initially, and Anderson couldn’t get through the end of the game without allowing the Salukis to tack on a run.
Anderson, Malone and Jenni Brooks totaled 155 pitches in Game 2, four more than the Salukis needed to get through the final 11 innings of the doubleheader.
“We couldn’t find any momentum on the mound, for sure, and we definitely couldn’t find any in the batter’s box,” Bredbenner said. “The times that we did we made a total mental mistake and took us out of the inning. Those kind of things can’t happen.”
WSU missed a chance to score in the second inning after pinch-runner Ashley Johnson took first base before she was announced into the game, and the Shockers left two runners on.
The game was broken open in the sixth when, already holding a 5-3 lead, SIU hit five doubles and scored four runs against Malone. The Nos. 5 and 7 hitters for SIU, Gonzalez and Wilson, combined to reach base in all nine plate appearances with two homers, three doubles, five runs, two walks and six RBIs.
“I thought they swung it pretty well,” Williams said. “But I also thought that we can play better than that.”
|S. Illinois||100||010||0||—||2 7 0|
|Wichita St.||100||000||0||—||1 4 0|
W — Bertelsen (14-9). L — Malone (15-6).
|S. Illinois||021||024||1||—||10 17 2|
|Wichita St.||102||000||0||—||3 8 0|
W — Orsburn (7-2). L — Brooks (3-2). HR — WSU: Williams