Fans lined the outfield wall, hoping to get a good view of Wichita State’s home softball opener Wednesday night – 113 more fans than Wilkins Stadium’s listed capacity of 1,000.
And when junior Paige Luellen sent a ball over the fence in right-center field in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Shockers edged ahead of No. 9 Oklahoma, the reigning NCAA champion.
But the joy was short-lived, as the Sooners answered with three runs in the fifth and went on to a 7-3 victory behind the three-hit pitching of junior left-hander Paige Parker.
WSU coach Kristi Bredbenner said she liked seeing the large turnout and hoped they saw things that might entice them back.
“It’s exciting for us to draw in the reigning national champions here, and I think our ballclub’s getting stronger and definitely more competitive against a team like that,” she said. “Hopefully, that creates a good environment, an environment that the Shocker fans will come out and see what we can do.
“Take away a few of the errors there, and I think we gave them a pretty good game. We made it pretty exciting there for a while, and we’ve just got to learn to hang on when we get a lead.”
Oklahoma (10-4) was able to score in four of the seven innings, helped by four Shocker errors. But WSU starter Katie Malone was able to retire the Sooners in order in the fourth.
“I think the big thing for us is we have to play flawless defense, and that was our struggle,” Bredbenner said.
“Those kinds of mistakes can’t happen against good teams. To beat a top-10 program, we’ve got to play our best. We played our best in some areas at times, but we didn’t play our best the whole game, and that’s what’s got to happen.”
Then, when Wichita State came to the plate, it faced the stifling Parker.
She limited Wichita State (9-3) to two hits other than Luellen’s homer and only two other baserunners. She struck out 11, including three straight to end the game after Luellen walked to open the seventh.
“She’s the best pitcher in college softball right now,” Bredbenner said. “She’s got great movement. She throws different speeds; the ball’s never in the same place twice. From that lefty perspective, you just don’t see that very often.”
Luellen said this is the best game she has had against Parker.
“This is the first time I’ve been successful off of her,” Luellen said. “It was nice to come in and show her that you’re not going to get me (out) every time.”
“Against good teams like that, hitters sometimes come up and tense up and think you have to swing at everything. So you have to kind of stay within yourself, within the moment and act like it’s just another at-bat against another pitcher.”
Bredbenner said she thinks the defensive problems can be easily corrected.
“There are things we can do, and we’ll be OK moving forward,” she said.
What’s scary for the rest of college softball is that Oklahoma has just one senior, who didn’t start Tuesday, on its roster.
“Yeah, doesn’t that suck?” Bredbenner joked. “They’re not even firing on all cylinders right now. Looking at some of the batting averages from last year to this year, there’s a couple of kids who aren’t doing as well as they have been.”
The Shockers head to Lubbock on Friday and open the Texas Tech tournament against North Texas.
7 10 1
3 3 3
W: Parker (4-3). L: Malone (8-3). HR: OU, Pendley; WSU, Luellen.
WSU batting: Wright 0-3, Spring 0-3, Hitz 1-3, Derrico 0-3, Luellen 1-2, Perrigan 0-3, Adams 0-3, Buck 0-2, Canada 0-1, Johnson 1-2.
WSU pitching: Malone 4 1/3 IP-1 ER, Klitzke 2 2/3-2.