After winning on Thursday to advance in the American Athletic Conference tournament for the first time, the Wichita State softball team spent the next two days anxiously waiting for the rain in Houston to subside.
The Shockers were two wins away from the conference title and automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, an outcome that seemed more possible with the way WSU was playing.
As the remaining hours to complete the tournament dwindled, WSU’s players changed into their uniforms. Not because a game was about to begin, but because they refused to believe this was how their season and how four seniors’ careers would end.
But their fate was sealed on Saturday evening when the continuous rain forced the American to cancel the tournament. South Florida, the regular-season champions whom WSU beat last weekend, was awarded the automatic NCAA bid, while the Shockers saw their 32-24 season end without the chance to play their way into the postseason.
“The most frustrating part is that you have four seniors who don’t have that final game, that final pitch, that final strikeout,” WSU coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “There’s always going to be that incomplete feeling because it ended abruptly. You feel for those kids and everything they’ve given to the program. It’s hard to see their careers end the way they did.”
According to an American spokesperson, tournament officials explored the possibility of moving the games to nearby fields. But the heavy rains had made those fields unplayable. Conference tournaments had to be completed by 1 p.m. Sunday. The NCAA Tournament field was announced Sunday night.
“First and foremost, our thoughts are with all of the people in the greater Houston region who are dealing with this extreme weather,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. “We regret that our student-athletes were not able to enjoy a traditional championship experience this season, but the safety of our student-athletes remains our first priority.”
Bredbenner said it was gutting to have to inform her team that the tournament was canceled.
“It’s just unfortunate because there’s not a lot we could do about it,” Bredbenner said. “You can’t do a whole lot about mother nature and rain.”
The abrupt ending forced WSU to reflect back on a roller coaster of a season that saw injuries take out four starters, only for the Shockers to rally for their sixth straight 30-win season and a strong finish.
WSU returns nearly 80 percent of its at-bats from the No. 1 offense in the American, while ace Bailey Lange will return from injury and WSU has its top two pitchers return from this season.
“Hopefully next year’s team will be motivated by this,” Bredbenner said. “We have to be ready to compete and learn from our slumps this year. We have to take care of business against the teams we’re supposed to beat so we aren’t the team that has to put it on the line and get into the postseason through the conference tournament.”
Bredbenner was proud of the way the team’s four seniors — Laurie Derrico, Asea Webber, Mauriana Jamele and Bethany Canada — guided WSU this season through adversity to another 30-win season.
The senior class were part of two NCAA regional appearances, including last season’s team that reached the NCAA regional championship game for the first time in program history.
“Those four were able to see some pretty cool things,” Bredbenner said. “They left their mark here and they left it in a better place than they found it. At the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for.”