Wichita State’s softball team lacks an ace pitcher, which places the Shockers in the same company as a growing number of teams. More teams, coach Kristi Bredbenner believes, are shaping staffs into roles instead of relying on one pitcher heavily.
“You’ve got maybe 15 or 20 programs in the entire country that have that one ace that’s going to keep you in every single game,” she said. “I think everybody is trying to learn how to manage their bullpen a little bit more vs. riding that one person.”
New pitching coach Ryne Stefankiewicz, 25, watched one of the nation’s most successful pitch-by-committee teams up close the past two seasons as a graduate assistant at Auburn. Auburn went to the College World Series last season with three pitchers starting between 19 and 26 games and throwing between 118 and 153 innings.
“At Auburn, we had a four-person pitching staff and every girl had their role and it’s important that the girls know their role,” he said. “Your role may be to get through the lineup once. Not every girl has ace stuff, and if you don’t you have to know your role.”
Last season, WSU relied on Jenni Brooks and Katie Malone, now juniors, for 49 of 57 starts. Sophomore Kelsey Sterneker and senior Ashlynne Neil return after playing small roles last season. Stefankiewicz is using last season’s performances as a starting point, but he wants most of his evaluation to come from his experience with the group. Malone went 19-10 with a 3.45 ERA in 2002 2/3 innings. Brooks went 11-11 with a 3.45 ERA in 115 2/3 innings.
“I’m trying to not look at last year’s stats,” he said. “If you’ve got three or four pitches that I feel we can use in a game, you’re probably going to be a starter. If you’ve one or two pitches that I feel are game ready, you’re probably going to be one of those girls that goes through the lineup once.”
Stefankiewicz considers Auburn coach Clint Myers a master at building and using a pitching staff. In 10 seasons as coach at Auburn and Arizona State, his teams made eight trips to the College World Series. He won NCAA titles in 2011 and 2008 at Arizona State. Stefankiewicz will preach five principles — location, movement, off-speed pitches, throw hard to reduce reaction time, and rhythm.
“Our No. 1 philosophy at Auburn was put (the pitch) where you want it, and then make it move,” Stefankiewicz said. “Location, location, location will be our primary focus.”
WSU’s ERA of 3.87 ranked third in the Missouri Valley Conference last season, an improvement from 4.13 in 2014. Stefankiewicz’s job is to continue that progress by wisely managing his bullpen.
“Some of things I’ve seen with Katie definitely put her at the top of the heap,” Bredbenner said. “She’s always in shape. She really worked hard on spin and that’s one thing Ryne is bringing to the table — a lot more focus on getting the ball to spin and making the ball move.”
Volleyball wins opener — Wichita State opened the volleyball season with a sweep of Oregon State on Friday in Honolulu.
Middle Abbie Lehman hit .476 and led the Shockers with 12 kills. Freshman Shimen Fayad added 10 kills and 11 digs. Emily Hiebert had 36 assists and four kills.
The Shockers hit .229 on their way to 25-23, 26-24 and 25-19 wins.
WSU plays host Hawaii at 11:59 p.m. Saturday, then faces Idaho at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Hooper on the infield — Former WSU baseball star Kevin Hooper, manager of the Wichita Wingnuts, is a volunteer assistant for Bredbenner. He will spend most of his time instructing infielders to pass on his expertise after a college and pro career at second base and shortstop.
“I’m just giving him the reins,” Bredbenner said. “The transition, in my opinion, from baseball to softball, when it comes to philosophies on the infield, is very similar. The bottom line is, you’re still going to field the same way.”
While the Wingnuts are playing, infielders practice in small groups early in the afternoon to give Hooper time to coach before his duties at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. He will join the staff on a regular basis when the Wingnuts season ends in mid-to-late September. In the spring, he will devote his time to the Shockers, traveling to all games, until early May.
“He brings a Shocker tradition that this team needs to start focusing on and building,” Bredbenner said. “His way of teaching and communicating is just going to be tremendous.”
Hooper played four seasons at WSU, earning All-MVC honors in 1998 and 1999, and spent 14 games in the major leagues with Detroit.
Come on back — The Shockers start their fall scrimmage schedule with a 2 p.m. alumni game Sept. 19.
They play eight scrimmages at Wilkins Stadium, with the opener against Saint Gregory’s (Okla.) at 1 p.m., Sept. 20. On Sept. 26, WSU plays Creighton (noon) and Tulsa (4:30 p.m.). On Sept. 30, WSU plays Hutchinson Community College at 6 p.m.
On Oct. 3, WSU plays Johnson County Community College (noon) and Rockhurst (2:15 p.m.). It plays Seminole (Okla.) State at 4 p.m., Oct. 7 and Southern Nazarene (Okla.) at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 9.
A best-of-3 intrasquad series begins on Oct. 14.
September’s first pitch — WSU baseball starts practice on Sept. 14 and will finish the fall with a best-of-3 series in late October.
Coach Todd Butler said 39 players reported and injuries will keep two out of fall practices. Freshman pitcher Connor Lungwitz is recovering from shoulder surgery and is scheduled to return to throwing in late September or early October. Freshman infielder Clay Richards underwent surgery on his right knee to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in late spring. He is expected to resume activity in November, Butler said.
The Shockers will run a mile on Sept. 4, needing to finish in under 6 minutes, 30 seconds. The Halloween scrimmage is Oct. 28.
Tee off for baseball — Mark Grogan grew up the youngest of nine children in St. Paul, Minn., and played baseball as a youngster in a league that would not exist today.
His Catholic school coaches lined up every child in the sixth grade and younger and drafted. Every team ended up with a few sixth-graders, a few first-graders and every age in between.
“In first grade, you played right field and batted ninth,” he said. “When you got to sixth grade, you were the dominant one.”
That started propelled Grogan, who played on WSU’s 1982 College World Series team, to a love of baseball. It is also why he helped organize a rebirth for WSU’s alumni baseball golf tournament as a benefit for League 42, the Wichita program devoted to bringing baseball to inner-city youngsters.
Grogan, who lives in Overland Park, coaches baseball and knows parents spend thousands of dollars to put their children on the best teams.
“There is no way we could have afforded to play travel baseball,” he said. “I would have really benefited from League 42.”
After a one-year hiatus, the alumni golf tournament is back with League 42 its beneficiary. In previous years, WSU baseball used the money raised for travel and other expenses. League 42 needs two more fields at its McAdams Park complex and organizers see this tournament as way to start a connection with Shocker baseball that can help work toward that goal.
“Coach Butler has really, really gotten behind this tournament,” Grogan said.
The four-person scramble, open to the public, tees off at 1 p.m., Oct. 16 at Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton. Cost is $100 for former Shockers and $125 for others. Golfers can register at www.sandcreekgolfclub.com.