Shocker softball overcomes adversity to win MVC title

The Wichita State softball team ran through obstacles all year long. 

Prior to the Shockers winning 10 straight games heading into Tuesday, the team had dropped two games in a series at Evansville. They were defeated by Missouri on April 13, dropping four games in a row.

Then, with a 21-18 record, the Shockers were tied for third place with Bradley and trailed Drake, who stood atop the Missouri Valley Conference with a five-game lead. It was the practice after that loss in Columbia, Missouri, that the Shockers started to come together.

“The biggest thing for us was to focus in on keeping things simple,” head coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “We had to have the belief that it doesn’t matter who was at the plate and that the 1-9 spots can get the job done.”

The Shockers started up their winning ways again, beginning with a come-from-behind victory over Bradley at home and capped off by a walk-off single by senior Liz Broyles. The Shockers carried that momentum into game two of the doubleheader, winning 11-10 by scoring nine runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. 

With the third game of the Bradley series canceled due to inclement weather, the Shockers prepared for five straight road games. As the team swept Missouri State in Springfield, Missouri, the Shockers put themselves in the position they had been fighting for: a chance to grab the lead in the MVC with a three-game series at Drake. 

Broyles and senior Cacy Williams stepped up to defeat the Bulldogs in Des Moines, Iowa. After winning the first game 9-1, Williams set a new WSU record by hitting her 36th career home run in a 9-0 victory in the second game of the series.

In the top of the seventh inning of the last game, the Shockers were tied with Drake 4-4 when Broyles went up to the plate with two runners on base. Broyles hit a ball pitched right down the middle of the plate to earn a home run that would score three runs, giving Wichita State the series sweep and the MVC lead 7-4.

“The one thing that is a pretty big turning point is that our seniors are stepping up,” Bredbenner said. “We really saw that in the Drake series and has been a big difference for us.”

A win at Tulsa and two victories at Indiana State put the Shockers in command once again. This gave them a three-game lead in the MVC heading into Tuesday against Missouri State. The Shockers carried a 10-game winning streak and had a chance to clinch at least a share of the regular-season MVC title with a victory. 

“Making adjustments was the big difference right now when you get to the end of the year,” Bredbenner said. “When you play well and put all facets together, you have a good chance to win.” 

The Shockers were in familiar territory, jumping out to an early lead with a Broyles two out double, giving the team a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Sophomore Mackenzie Wright followed in the bottom of the second inning, hitting a double to left center field that brought in two WSU runs and pushed their lead to 3-0. 

Junior Katie Malone pitched five straight shutout innings and struck out five Missouri State batters on Tuesday night. With the bases loaded, her only mistake resulted in a grand slam home run to give Missouri State the lead 4-3 in the top of the sixth inning. 

“It is a lot easier when we know that we don’t have to play from behind,” Malone said. “If I do give up runs, I know my team will have my back and that they pick me up.”

Senior Brittany Fortner then drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the seventh inning. Junior Ashley Johnson’s sacrifice bunt was caught by a Missouri State fielder, preventing Fortner from advancing into scoring position. 

Freshman Laurie Ann Derrico came up to the plate to hit a line drive single, advancing to second base off of an overthrown ball to first base by the Bears. With the tying and go-ahead run in scoring position, junior Kelli Spring swung at the first pitch, hitting a right field double that brought in the winning runs and the MVC championship, finishing off Missouri State 5-4. 

“I’m really glad my team had confidence in me,” Spring said. “I was thinking to just put the ball on the ground to score one to tie the game at least. (The hit) happened to score both runs, which was awesome and the best feeling.” 

Wichita State (32-18, 17-5) is guaranteed the No. 1 seed in the MVC tournament in Carbondale, Illinois, on May 12-14 with Tuesday night’s victory. The Shockers have the opportunity to win the conference outright this weekend against Southern Illinois, needing just one win in the three game series. 

The three-game series with the Salukis will begin with a doubleheader on Saturday, and will celebrate the team’s five seniors on Sunday during Senior Day. The first pitch is at noon.