The Wichita State softball team was motivated for a home doubleheader against Missouri this week, as it was a chance to tack on a pair of wins against a SEC team with a high RPI and boost the Shockers' resume for a NCAA regional at-large berth.
But that opportunity no longer exists for Wichita State after Missouri paid $5,000 to buy out Wednesday's doubleheader.
The motivation for Missouri is clear: With a RPI of 23, Missouri is likely to receive an at-large bid to a NCAA regional, but only if it finishes with a winning record. That was in doubt with Missouri at 26-24 entering the weekend. So instead of risking two games against Wichita State (29-18, 31 RPI), Missouri instead brought in outmatched Arkansas-Pine Bluff (15-27, 263 RPI) over the weekend for two victories to ensure its winning record.
"The fact that they didn't feel 100 percent comfortable playing two games against us tells our girls that we're a competitive team that even the big dogs in the Power 5 schools aren't confident they can come in and beat us," WSU coach Kristi Bredbenner said.
Bredbenner said she was "definitely disappointed" when she learned that Missouri was backing out of the doubleheader, but understands the reasoning.
"Teams have to do what teams have to do," Bredbenner said. "They're fortunate enough to have the money and do what they needed to do to get themselves in a position to play in the postseason. I understand it, but you can't say it's not disappointing because I feel like we've got the roster this year to give them two competitive games."
Wichita State is in good position to receive one of 32 at-large berths to a NCAA regional if it doesn't win the automatic bid from the American Athletic Conference. The Shockers own seven top-50 RPI wins with an average RPI win of 98, the 17th-best mark in the country.
But Bredbenner pointed out that Missouri's decision has ripple effects. WSU no longer has the chance to boost its RPI, which in turn affects the RPI of other AAC bubble teams such as South Florida (34-19, 43 RPI), Houston (32-19, 44 RPI) and Tulsa (28-22, 52 RPI).
The latest projections by College Sports Madness have WSU, South Florida and Tulsa all in the field of 64. The Shockers have played in a NCAA regional three times in the program's history (1989, 2005, 2016).
"We're right there and have a good chance to get an at-large, and now you take away an opportunity to play a SEC school that's borderline .500 and potentially get a win," Bredbenner said. "That takes away a potential opportunity for us, but that could potentially take away a spot for one of our conference buddies at getting that at-large bid."
Wichita State will not attempt to fill the vacancy, instead using the rest to prepare for its final weekend series at South Florida with a chance to become AAC champions. After winning five of its last six games in conference play, WSU (11-7 AAC) can win a share of the title with a series victory over USF (12-6 AAC) or win it outright with a sweep.
The Shockers will play again in Tampa, Fla., for the AAC tournament, which starts next Thursday.
"Our main goals this season were to win a conference championship and make it to the postseason," Bredbenner said. "We're right in line to accomplish both of those things and hopefully that will give us some momentum."