Wichita State’s Kelli Spring stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with teammates Brittany Fortner at third and Laurie Anne Derrico at second.
There was one out, and the Shockers trailed Missouri State, 4-3.
All Spring did was deliver “the biggest hit I’ve ever had in my career,” by connecting with a pitch that barely made it out of the infield and scored both runs, giving the Shockers a 5-4 win at Wilkins Stadium and at least a share of the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title.
It was also WSU’s 11th consecutive victory.
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“I was looking for something that I could get through and at least score the tying run,” Spring said. “But to drive in both (runs) was huge.”
Fortner led off the inning with a walk, followed by a one-out single by Derrico.
“I was just worried about that first run scoring right away,” Wichita State coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “Our baserunning was big there, we knew what we were going to do on contact and it was just exciting ... I think I just ran across the field.”
The Shockers got on the board in the first inning when Liz Broyles doubled off the left center wall, scoring Paige Luellen. WSU (32-18, 17-5 MVC) pushed two more runs across in the second when Mackenzie Wright doubled to left center, scoring Cacy Williams and Ashley Johnson.
WSU had chances in the fourth and fifth innings with the bases loaded, but no runs were able to come from it. The Shockers led 3-0 after five innings, but a grand slam from Missouri State’s Elena Gambill shocked the crowd and gave the Bears a 4-3 lead.
“I knew that if I got us out of that inning, that my team would battle back,” WSU starting pitcher Katie Malone said. “I honestly kind of lost some confidence there in that inning, I’m not sure what happened, but I knew if I kept pitching well, our offense would back me up.”
Malone went six innings, allowing four runs on six hits, while striking out five. Teammate Jenni Brooks came in to pitch in the seventh inning after Malone allowed a leadoff walk. Brooks shut the door, facing the minimum of three and getting three ground outs.
“Jenni came in and pitched well for us,” Bredbenner said. “Katie pitched six great innings and Jenni came in and did what Jenni does, she pitched to contact and our defense played well.”
It was only the second regular-season title for WSU, following 2014. WSU will have the No. 1 seed, regardless, in the MVC Tournament on May 12-14 in Carbondale, Ill.
Wichita State will host Southern Illinois for a three-game series beginning on Saturday at noon. The Shockers need to win at least one game to win the conference outright.
“This is a big series for us,” Bredbenner said. “It’s not a streak thing or anything like that, it’s just we’ve struggled with Southern Illinois in the years I’ve been here. They’re a good team and will be after us, we’ve got a target on our back.”
4 6 2
5 11 1
W—Brooks (16-6). L—Beason (7-9)
HR—Missouri State, Gambill
WSU Batting—Williams 1-2, Wright 2-3, Luellen 0-2, Hitz 1-4, Broyles 2-4, Fortner 0-3, Johnson 2-4, Derrico 1-2, Spring 2-2, Jamele 0-1.
WSU Pitching—Malone 6 IP-4 ER, Brooks 1 IP-0 ER.