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Softball begins season in Houston

Ryleigh+Buck+is+greeted+by+her+teammates+after+hitting+a+home+run+in+a+scrimmage+on+Feb.+7%2C+2017.
Ryleigh Buck is greeted by her teammates after hitting a home run in a scrimmage on Feb. 7, 2017.

Ryleigh Buck is greeted by her teammates after hitting a home run in a scrimmage on Feb. 7, 2017.

Ryleigh Buck is greeted by her teammates after hitting a home run in a scrimmage on Feb. 7, 2017.

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Wichita State softball is coming off the best season in program history, earning both the Missouri Valley regular season and tournament title along with earning the program’s first NCAA Tournament win.

Now, the Shockers are looking to use that success right from the get go during the team’s first set of games in Houston.

“We had a few rough games at the beginning last year, and we don’t want that this year,” senior pitcher Katie Malone said. “We want to start right where we left off (last year) and keep rolling from there.”

WSU returns six starting position players, with four of those players making All-MVC a year ago. Although the Shockers lost 2016 MVC Player of the Year Cacy Williams and Brittany Fortner, the program’s leader in RBI’s, the Shockers return a batting average of .296.

Senior Macklin Hitz returns as WSU’s designated hitter in the lineup, hitting .350 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI’s. Junior Paige Luellen led the MVC in runs scored in 2016, scoring 52 runs.

The All-MVC second team member hammered 11 home runs and batted .318 on the season.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Luellen said. “This year my goal is to get more hits. We’re going to need to have power, especially with Liz (Broyles), Cacy and Brittany graduating (last year).”

Pitching will be a concern for the Shockers, as pitching ace Jenni Brooks will be out until the end of February after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. The Shockers will rely heavily on Malone and freshman Bailey Klitzke

Head coach Kristi Bredbenner also moved junior Morgan Palmer from the outfield to pitching in order to give the Shockers more depth.

“We’re going to definitely have to pitch by committee for the first part of the year, and it’s a definite concern,” Bredbenner said. “The one thing that is nice is that most of the tournaments we are going to only play four games. So that helps us quite a bit and hopefully when we get to Texas Tech or Tulsa, Jenni is able to throw a few innings and help us out.”

The Shockers will play four games in two days in Houston, starting off with Boston College and Wright State on Friday.

Boston College returns seven starters from a 30-23 team, including all of its pitchers.

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