WSU softball’s Lauren Mills on walk-off home run to beat AAC leader
The finality of the moment didn’t strike Laurie Anne Derrico until after her last game at Wilkins Stadium.
Tears began to stream down her face as she trotted off the field to join the team’s other three seniors — Bethany Canada, Mauriana Jamele and Asea Webber — and family in preparation for senior day.
The Wichita State softball team lost 1-0 to South Florida on Sunday, but won the series over the American Athletic Conference champion. Injuries (Webber was on crutches because of a season-ending knee injury) had robbed the team of three starters, but that didn’t stop the Shockers (31-24) from pushing through to their sixth straight 30-win season.
In the face of adversity, Derrico has had to become a better leader. She carries a quiet confidence with her and the underclassmen try to mimic the work ethic that’s cemented her as arguably the best shortstop in program history.
After fighting back emotions all weekend, Derrico finally allowed them to come out on Sunday afternoon. They were tears of sadness that her time at Wilkins had come to an end, but she also cried because it meant so much.
“This game means everything to me,” Derrico said. “I didn’t expect to love the game even more when I got to college. But the friendships and the memories that have come with it the last four years have been absolutely amazing. I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world.”
“She’s the type of kid you wish you had 18 of”
Derrico grew up in Sterling, Oklahoma (population: 786) where there wasn’t much to do unless you were playing sports.
“Sports were life for everybody who played,” Derrico said. “We were all real hard workers. I just wanted to be the best that I could be.”
Derrico began playing softball at 5 and it quickly became evident to her mother, Jacqui, that she was a natural. The next 12 years featured countless one-hour trips to Oklahoma City so Laurie Anne could play and practice with a competitive summer club.
When she wasn’t at practice, Laurie Anne begged anyone at home to help her practice. More times than not that was her mother.
“No matter what season it was, she always wanted to practice,” Jacqui said. “She always wanted to get better. She never wanted to be the one that was slacking. I used to pitch to her in the yard until she hit one too hard and it hit me in the wrist one time and that was pretty rough. But she was always looking for someone to go play catch or pitch to her or feed the tee since she was a kid.”
That work ethic has distinguished Derrico at Wichita State, not only on the field but in the classroom.
She has made honor roll every semester in four years at WSU and carries a 3.8 grade-point average as an exercise science major. She was the recipient of the Academic Excellence Award for the 2016-17 season in the Missouri Valley Conference. In the weight room, Derrico’s drive earned her the workhorse award given to the top women’s athlete at WSU for her dedication to strength training and conditioning.
“Every year she’s gotten bigger, faster, stronger because she’s a beast in the weight room,” WSU softball coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “She always took care of business off the field, whether that was in the weight room or the classroom. She’s the type of kid you wish you had 18 of and that could play every position.”
“You gotta do what you gotta do”
Laurie Anne was 8 the first time her mother took her to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
In Jacqui’s estimation, that is the moment that spurred Laurie Anne to become such a good defender at shortstop.
“She saw a player dive and make a play and that was the first time she said, ‘I think I can do that,’” Jacqui said.
That’s what made Jacqui beam a little more on Sunday when Laurie Anne made a diving stop to her right in the third inning, then threw out the runner at first from her knees. It was almost identical to the play that Laurie Anne said she thought she could do all those years ago.
“You gotta do what you gotta do to get the out,” Derrico said. “I just want to help my pitcher, so if that’s what I needed to do then that’s what I was going to do. I wanted to make sure I left everything out there on the field.”
Derrico has certainly done that over her four-year career, as she has become one of the top power hitters in program history. No one has hit more home runs (39) and she ranks second in RBIs (141), fourth in total bases (338) and sixth in runs (136), doubles (38) and slugging percentage (0.555).
After this weekend’s series, South Florida coach Ken Eriksen, whose team won the AAC title, told Bredbenner that he thought Derrico was the best shortstop in the conference.
“LA has been everything we thought she would be and even more,” Bredbenner said. “At the plate, we knew she had power and I still think teams are intimidated by her because they knew she can always drive one out. Defensively, she makes things look so easy and effortless out there.”
“She’s the sunshine for everyone”
Although Derrico’s playing career will wrap up this month, her time with the program will not.
The director of operations job opened up and Bredbenner immediately thought of Derrico, who wants to be a softball coach. The job is a thankless position that involves most of the minutiae that coaches don’t want to do, but it’s a start on top of being a paid position that will allow Derrico to pursue a master’s degree at WSU.
“It will be nice to get to see what goes on behind the scenes too,” Derrico said. “I’ve done it on the other side, but now I get to see what goes on in preparation and all that other stuff. I think it will be good for my coaching career whenever it does start.”
Bredbenner believes her playing experience will translate to the job.
“She lived it for four years and she knows what we do every single day, what we like, what we don’t like, how our program is run,” Bredbenner said. “At the end of the day, I know she’s 100 percent invested in making Shocker softball great. When it opened up, Laurie Anne was the first one I thought about.”
For the past four years, Derrico has given the program her everything.
On Sunday, her teammates were able to let Derrico know what she’s meant to them.
“She’s one of the most loving, caring people I’ve ever met,” WSU junior Ryleigh Buck said. “She’s out there every day going as hard as she can. She does all of the little things and that makes her a great role model for everyone. She’s the sunshine for everyone around her. She always was able to find something positive, no matter how we were playing, and that has a huge impact on all of us.”