Wichita State Shockers

Mackenzie Wright wins AAC's Player of the Year as Shockers eye tournament run

Wichita State third baseman Mackenzie Wright is a member of the All-MVC preseason team.
Wichita State third baseman Mackenzie Wright is a member of the All-MVC preseason team. The Wichita Eagle

In a moment where her individual greatness was being highlighted, Mackenzie Wright choose to redirect the spotlight to anyone but herself.

Wright, a senior third baseman on the Wichita State softball team, was named the Player of the Year in the American Athletic Conference on Wednesday, after hitting a conference-best .455 in conference play with four home runs and 13 runs batted in.

"I'm just surrounded by really great players and hitters and I have a really great hitting coach in (Elizabeth Economon)," Wright said. "It's really exciting because we wanted to make a statement in this new conference and I think we did that offensively. I feel like we proved we were the best offensive team in the conference."

The Shockers are counting on Wright and their offense to power them through the single-elimination AAC tournament, which begins on Thursday in Tampa, Fla. with No. 3 seed Wichita State (30-20) taking on No. 6 seed Tulsa (30-23) at 9 a.m. Central time.

WSU's offense led all teams in conference play in batting average (.285), runs (109), doubles (25), and more than doubled the next closest team in home runs (30). Coach Kristi Bredbenner hopes that kind of production returns after WSU scored just four runs in three games against South Florida in the same ball park last weekend.

"Our offense is going to be the key," Bredbenner said. "We pressed a little bit up at the plate and credit South Florida with some of the best pitching we saw all year. But we also didn't get a lot of good swings on the ball, either. The bottom line is we've got to have confidence up there and be aggressive early in the count and do what we do."

The offense features consistent hitters like Paige Luellen, Ryleigh Buck, and Bailey Lange, who are all hitting at least .299, as well heavy hitters like Laurie Derrico, Madison Perrigan, and Bailee Nickerson, who are the top three home-run hitters on the team with a combined 26 dingers.

Lange (8-5, 2.72 ERA) and Bailey Klitzke (1-0, 1.91 ERA) have been excellent on the mound in conference play for WSU, but the team's defense has been spotty at times.

"When we have all three aspects of the game show up for us, then we feel like we're the best team in the conference," Wright said. "We just have to make sure we put it all together."

After playing at USF in the last regular-season series, WSU decided to stay in Tampa this week to cut down on travel. The team took advantage of the extra few days in Florida: they went to the beach, attended a Tampa Bay Rays game, and bonded together as a team.

But Bredbenner said her team knows what's at stake with WSU and Tulsa both battling for position for an at-large berth in an NCAA regional. Tulsa took two of three games against the Shockers at WSU earlier this season.

WSU's 2016 conference tournament title in the Missouri Valley remains the only conference tournament title it has won in program history.

"We want to win the conference tournament," Bredbenner said. "We know how big of a deal it would be, so we need to get out there and give it our best shot. We've got the pitching staff to do it, we've got the hitters to do it, and we've got the team to do it. We just need to go out there and do it now."

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