Becky Endicott played catcher at Emporia State and buys the theory that catchers turn into coaches.
Endicott, senior associate athletic director at Wichita State, also believes that coaches who succeed in less-than-perfect situations are a good fit at Wichita State. So when Kristi Bredbenner started coaching at Emporia State in 2006, Endicott paid attention. When Emporia State finished second in NCAA Division II in 2006 and 2008, Endicott became intrigued, years later sending a friend by a practice to subtly gauge Bredbenner’s interest if the Wichita State job opened.
When the job opened in 2011, Endicott had a head start researching Bredbenner, an NCAA Division II All-American catcher at Truman State.
“Kristi took over a great program at Emporia State,” Endicott said. “But at that level you have to be able to recruit quality kids that you can teach to be good softball players. That’s part of what she’s done here. She’s taken the young ladies that come from good programs, but may not be the star in that program, and made them into the stars.”
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On Saturday, WSU clinched the undisputed Missouri Valley Conference title with a 5-4 win over Southern Illinois. It is the program’s second MVC title, both under Bredbenner.
The Shockers (33-19, 18-6 MVC) won it with their trademark power offense, homering three times off SIU’s Brianna Jones. The seniors that Bredbenner identifies as crucial to the success that began with the 2014 title played prominent roles. First baseman Cacy Williams smashed a two-run home run in the the third inning. Left fielder Brittany Fortner hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning to put the Shockers ahead of SIU (32-18, 15-10) to stay.
“Offensively, they just do a phenomenal job,” SIU coach Kerri Blaylock said. “The cornerstone was Cacy. She changes your approach. You can’t lock into what you think your best pitch is, because she may take that away. I went at her today and I don’t know how smart that was.”
Williams also homered in the second game, an 11-3 SIU win, to extend her WSU career record to 39. She drove in three runs in the doubleheader to become WSU’s career leader with 133 RBIs.
Both Endicott and Bredbenner say the difference between NCAA Divisions I and II softball isn’t a wide gulf. Bredbenner was able to carry over many of her recruiting contacts and evaluations from her six seasons at Emporia State when she took over the Shockers for the 2012 season.
She identified Williams, from Platte City, Mo., as a superb talent while coaching at Emporia State. Williams, after spending her freshman season at Emporia State in 2013, followed Bredbenner to WSU. She earned MVC Player of the Year honors as a sophomore in 2014 and may win that honor again this season.
“My philosophy didn’t change a whole lot … as far as the type of player I was looking for,” Bredbenner said. “The change came in that I had more money to find those type of players and I could get more of them. ”
Fortner, from Cedar Hill, Mo., came to WSU for the 2013 season with a belief that Bredbenner would quickly turn the Shockers into winners.
“I wanted to be part of turning something around and getting us back in the right direction,” Fortner said. “I had a lot of confidence in (the coaching staff) and their ability to recruit. It was (Bredbenner’s) confidence in herself and her own abilities and her confidence in me and what I could do. That makes you feel good.”
Fortner, a two-time All-MVC pick, needed time to develop. She hit .241 as a freshman, .358 as a sophomore and .416 last season. She enters Sunday’s final regular-season game hitting .308. She owns 56 career doubles, tied atop the MVC list.
WSU’s pop in the lineup goes much deeper than those two. Sophomore Paige Luellen, who sat out last season with a knee injury, has 11 home runs. Junior Macklin Hitz is hitting .378 with 10 home runs. The revival, after five straight losing seasons, took hold with the arrival of Fortner and Williams.
’“Between (Williams) and Brittany Fortner, they are the sole reason our program has turned around,” Bredbenner said. “Those two have really set the standard for this program.”
WSU clinched a share of the MVC title on Tuesday, also wrapping up the No. 1 seed the MVC Tournament. WSU wanted to leave no doubt and Saturday’s 5-4 win, its 12th in a row, did that.
“No sharing,” Williams said. “Sharing is never fun, especially with someone you don’t like.”
WSU and SIU finish the regular season with a single game at 11 a.m. Sunday at Wilkins Stadium, a time moved up an hour because of weather concerns. The MVC Tournament begins Thursday in Carbondale, Ill.