The Wichita State softball team has a body of work that looks like a strong resume to receive an at-large bid to play in a NCAA regional.
The Shockers (24-17) are receiving votes in the top-25 polls, own a No. 34 RPI in the latest NCAA report, and claimed their 11th top-100 RPI victory of the season on Wednesday by sweeping No. 24 Oklahoma State courtesy of a 9-6 victory at home. The Shockers now have wins over powerhouses like Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Texas and just one loss outside of the top-70 in RPI.
Yet WSU sits at 6-6 in American Athletic Conference play with a quality Central Florida (30-16, 8-4 AAC) team headed to Wilkins Stadium for a doubleheader on Friday, starting at 4 p.m., and the series finale on Sunday at noon.
"I think in those mid-week games we're playing loose and probably more fearless," WSU senior Mackenzie Wright said. "We just need to transfer that confidence and that fearlessness that we play with in midweek games to the conference games on the weekend."
It's not that the Shockers are losing to bad opponents. Memphis (74), Tulsa (49), and Houston (45) are all ranked in the top-100 in RPI and are all teams that have won two out of three games against WSU so far in conference play.
But WSU's non-conference wins show that it has the potential to defeat teams like that.
"We feel like we have so much potential on this team," WSU pitcher Bailey Lange said. "We've got pitching and defense, and then our offense is crazy good. We just have to put it all together during the weekend and we're going to be tough to beat."
Wright is leading the team with a .362 batting average, while Laurie Derrico (9), Bailee Nickerson (7), Paige Luellen (6), and Madison Perrigan (6) have supplied home-run power. Lange is 13-10 on the mound with a 3.26 ERA with 149 strikeouts in 141-plus innings.
WSU has flashed its top-end potential several times this season, but maybe never more than when it took a 6-0 lead into the sixth inning over No. 2-ranked Oklahoma, the defending national champion. The Shockers walked six hitters to help spark an OU rally for seven runs in what ended up as a 7-6 Oklahoma win.
That was a tough loss to take and one that WSU coach Kristi Bredbenner admits might have carried over into a lackluster series at Houston last weekend.
But the 9-6 win over Oklahoma State on Wednesday signifies to her that the Shockers are ready to make a run in the final three weeks of the season.
"At the end of the day, we're a great ball team," Bredbenner said. "We're getting a lot of respect right now. We're getting votes in the top 25, and our RPI is good enough that you would hope we would make a regional. Any time we're playing anybody, I feel like we can win. We just have to show up and pitch."