The Wichita State softball team will play in its fourth NCAA Regional in program history this weekend after earning an at-large berth with a 30-21 overall record against the 20th-toughest schedule in the country.
In a double-elimination tournament, the Shockers will play Oklahoma State (36-20) first in the Fayetteville, Ark. regional on Friday at 1:30 p.m. broadcast on ESPNU. The other matchup in Fayetteville is No. 13 Arkansas and DePaul, with the winners meeting on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and the losers playing after at 4 p.m.
The first game is a "dealbreaker," according to WSU coach Kristi Bredbenner. WSU will have to beat Oklahoma State for a third time this season and overcome its history in the NCAA Regionals (1-6 all-time) and against OSU (10-79 all-time).
"If you end up losing that first game, then you've got to climb a pretty steep hill to get back into it," Bredbenner said. "I always believe the teams that win on the first day have the best chance to win the tournament.
"We've been tested throughout the whole year and we know if this team shows up and plays to its potential, they can beat anybody."
Bredbenner liked that WSU was assigned to a regional where it has defeated the top two seeds. WSU beat Oklahoma State 5-3 in Stillwater and 9-6 in Wichita. The Shockers also own a 1-0 victory over Arkansas this season.
"It's huge any time you can get any kind of confidence, I think that's a positive for our team," Bredbenner said. "But we can't be overconfident. This is a new season for everybody. You know they're going to make adjustments and go back and figure out why they lost to us and make those changes."
WSU's advantage this weekend will be when it is up at the plate.
In the fourth-strongest conference in the country, WSU led the American Athletic Conference in batting average, slugging percentage, runs scored, hits, runs batted in, doubles, home runs and total bases. The Shockers have hit 57 home runs on the season, second-most in program history.
Mackenzie Wright, who plays third base, was named the AAC Player of the Year after hitting .377 and leading the team in runs scored (36). Laurie Derrico, Madison Perrigan, and Bailee Nickerson combined to belt 26 home runs, while Paige Luellen (.323), Ryleigh Buck (.307), and Bailey Lange (.300) are all plus hitters.
"The bottom line for us is we've got to be firing on all three clyinders," Bredbenner said. "You can't get by with doing one or two things well and something not.
"Against a team like Oklahoma State, we're going to have to pitch well and play good defense and then we're going to have to out-hit them."