Sustained success is what the Wichita State softball team is chasing in the 2019 season, which opened up last weekend for the Shockers.
WSU is coming off arguably its most successful season in program history. The Shockers finished 32-23, played for an American Athletic Conference title on the final weekend and advanced to an NCAA regional championship game for the first time. WSU also won conference titles in the Missouri Valley in 2014 and 2016 but failed to produce follow-up seasons.
They don’t want 2019 to be another missed opportunity. With six starters returning to the lineup and a loaded pitching staff, the Shockers are poised to contend for another AAC title and NCAA Tournament.
“The depth is certainly there,” WSU coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “We’ve got some really solid depth at every position. We have new kids pushing our returners for playing time. We can swing it, we can pitch it and we can play defense. We just have to do it consistently throughout the year and that’s something we’re going to keep working to get better at.”
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A solid foundation of all-conference selections return in senior pitcher/outfielder Bailey Lange, senior shortstop Laurie Derrico, junior infielder Ryleigh Buck and sophomore outfielder Bailee Nickerson. Junior catcher Madison Perrigan and senior outfielder Asea Webber are also returning starters.
“You can definitely tell that we all have that mojo with us,” Perrigan said. “We’ve all played together and everybody gets along and that’s important. We know what it takes and we’re motivated to go even further this year.”
A trio of transfers will make an immediate impact for WSU. Sophomore Wylie Glover, a Marshall transfer and Valley Center native, will see time in the outfield, while mid-semester freshman transfer Sydney McKinney (Missouri) is starting at second base and Louisiana Tech transfer Erin McDonald, a sophomore, is expected to boost WSU’s pitching staff.
Last season WSU heavily relied on Lange (20-13, 2.90 ERA, 183 strikeouts) in the final three weeks of the season. That pressure shouldn’t be there this season with the improvement of sophomore Caitlin Bingham, who opened the season last weekend with three complete games, a 2-1 record, 1.75 ERA and 20 strikeouts. Along with McDonald, sophomore Hailey Martinez should also take some innings this season.
“That was huge to see that improvement from Caitlin,” Bredbenner said. “She looked fantastic and that’s been her goal this year is to throw more complete games and become a better pitcher. I think this year we’re going to be able to keep a pretty fresh staff, so we don’t have to rely on Bailey so much down the stretch.”
Sophomore Neleigh Herring is thriving since taking over first base, while the bat of freshman designated hitter Lauren Mills has added power to the lineup. Off the bench, seniors Mauriana Jamele and Bethany Canada, sophomore Kaylee Huecker and freshman Adeline Reese should all see time in the infield.
Bredbenner thinks WSU has a better blend of power and speed this season. Derrico, Perrigan and Mills are all big bats in the lineup, while Lange, Buck, Webber and McKinney offer speed. Getting on base shouldn’t be a problem for the Shockers, so the question will be how consistent they can hit with runners in scoring position.
After receiving votes in national polls, WSU was humbled somewhat this past weekend in Charleston, S.C., leaving the three-day tournament with a 2-3 record.
This weekend WSU plays in another three-day tournament, this time in Ruston, La. and without as many big-name programs. Bredbenner knows it’s early, but she hopes WSU can develop its leadership in this part of the season.
WSU will play its first home game at Wilkins Stadium on Wednesday, March 6 against Oklahoma State at 6 p.m., then host Nebraska for a three-game series that weekend. AAC play starts March 22 at home against Houston.
“We’ve got a lot of great leaders by example,” Bredbenner said. “They do everything right. They work hard. They’re great kids. But sometimes you need to have that one impact player who has a little bit of swag, a little more grit. That’s the player we’re looking for and one we need to find as the season goes along.”
WSU softball roster
WSU softball schedule
8 — *Central Michigan, W, 6-2; Virginia Tech, L, 11-3
9 — *Pittsburgh, L, 4-2; College of Charleston, L, 4-1
10 — *Pittsburgh, W, 7-2
Friday — **Southeast Missouri State, 10 a.m.; Abilene Christian, noon
Saturday — **Louisiana Tech, 5; Mississippi Valley State, 7
Sunday — **Fairleigh Dickinson, 9 a.m.
22 — ***UT Arlington, 1
23 — ***Abilene Christian, 12:30; UT Arlington, 5:30
24 — ***Prairie View A&M, 10 a.m.
1 — ****Murray State, 10 a.m.; Saint Louis, 12:15
2 — ****Kentucky, 10 a.m.; Southern Illinois, 2:30
3 — ****Kentucky, 10 a.m.
6 — Oklahoma State, 6
9 — Nebraska, 1 and 3:30
10 — Nebraska, 1
13 — North Texas, 3
15 — *****UT-Chattanooga, 3:45; North Dakota State, 6:15
16 — *****Towson, 1; Minnesota, 3:15
17 — *****Monmouth, 8 a.m.
20 — Kansas, 6
22 — Houston, 6
23 — Houston, 3
24 — Houston, noon
27 — at Oklahoma State, 6
29 — Connecticut, 6
30 — Connecticut, 3
31 — Connecticut, noon
3 — Missouri, 3 and 5:30
5 — at UCF, 5
6 — at UCF, 2
7 — at UCF, noon
10 — at Arkansas, 4
12 — at Memphis, 6
13 — at Memphis, 2
14 — at Memphis, noon
18 — East Carolina, 6
19 — East Carolina, 3
20 — East Carolina, 11 a.m.
24 — Oklahoma, 6
26 — at Tulsa, 5
27 — at Tulsa, 2
28 — at Tulsa, noon
3 — South Florida, 6
4 — South Florida, 3
5 — South Florida, 11 a.m.
9-12 — AAC Championships in Houston
* — Cougar Classic in Charleston, S.C.
** — La Tech Invitational in Ruston, La.
*** — Maverick Invitational in Arlington, Texas
**** — Coach B Classic in Carbondale, Ill.
***** — USF Spring Invitational in Clearwater, Fla.