The Wichita State softball team advanced for the first time in the American Athletic Conference tournament with a 2-1 victory over Central Florida in Houston on Thursday afternoon.
Sophomore Neleigh Herring played the hero, jumping on a 2-1 pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning for a solo home run over the center-field fence to break a 1-1 tie. WSU starter Erin McDonald sealed the win, setting down UCF in order in the seventh inning, including back-to-back strikeouts to end the game.
“(The pitcher) had been trying to keep it on the corners and I knew she was going to miss on one of them, and I was just ready when she did,” Herring said. “I knew it had a chance and I was so glad it went over and I could do that for my team and put us up.
“It was so awesome hearing them screaming and cheering for me at home plate. That pumped me up, for sure.”
The win by WSU (32-24) sets up a rematch with top-seeded South Florida (40-17) in the semifinals at 1 p.m. Friday with the game live-streamed on the American Digital Network’s Facebook page. The Shockers ended the regular season with a series win over USF that featured a 4-3 win in Game 1 and a 10-0 run-rule in Game 2.
While USF has a NCAA regional bid locked up, WSU almost certainly needs to win on Friday and Saturday to secure the conference’s automatic bid to reach the postseason.
That’s still a possibility thanks to some timely hitting and another tremendous performance from McDonald in the circle.
The sophomore transfer from Louisiana Tech has ascended to WSU’s ace in the final month of the season and showed why Thursday. McDonald faced two-out, bases-loaded jams twice, escaping unscathed in the first and sixth innings. She also stranded a runner on third with two outs in the fourth inning, as McDonald limited UCF’s offense to one run, six hits and three walks with five strikeouts.
WSU took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning when its No. 8 and No. 9 hitters, Adi Reese and Wylie Glover, each delivered two-out hits. That brought freshman Sydney McKinney, who hit .397 in AAC games this season, to the plate and she turned on the first pitch she saw down the third-base line for the RBI single.
UCF tied the score in the fourth inning on a solo home run, but Herring answered, sending the Shockers through to the next round against a familiar foe.
“We have so much confidence and momentum coming off last weekend,” Herring said. “With them, we know what to expect and we’re ready to take it to them.”
WSU softball 2, Central Florida 1
|Central Florida (34-21)||000||100||0|
|1 6 2|
|Wichita State (32-24)||010||001||x|
|2 5 1|
WP: McDonald (15-12). LP: White (23-14). E: UCF, Glover, Emanuel; WSU, McDonald. LOB: UCF 8, WSU 7. HR: UCF, Barlow; WSU, Herring. SH: UCF, London; WSU, Reese. SB: UCF, Schappacher. CS: UCF, Schappacher. HBP: None. Umpires: Brad Newton, home; John Schaefer, first; James Connors, second; Aaron Eller, third. T: 1:51. A: 209.