Softball’s five home runs sink Golden Hurricanes

Grant Cohen

Five runs in the eighth inning in Tuesday’s victory over Kansas was the positive momentum Wichita State needed to carry to the plate in Wednesday’s meet up with Tulsa (23-6).  

WSU transitioned the positive momentum into a two-run RBI in the first inning from a center field home run from junior Macklin Hitz, en route to an 11-3 victory in five innings.

“We took the confidence from the KU win yesterday,” Wichita State head coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “For several of our girls, the bats from that last inning carried into today.”

The Shockers used that spark in Lawrence at Wilkins Stadium to hit a .409 batting average against the Golden Hurricane while hitting five home runs to win their eighth home victory and fifth straight win.

Wichita State struck first, scoring two runs off of a home run from Hitz to grab an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Tulsa tied the game in the second inning thanks to freshman Tori Stafford, who hit her first home run of the season with a runner on base.

Tulsa grabbed the lead off of a sacrifice fly by Julia Hollingsworth, but the Golden Hurricane would be shutout with two runners on by junior Katie Malone. Malone, who got her eighth win of the season, came into relief pitch for sophomore Kelsey Sterneker during the top of the third inning, providing three straight outs to go along with the strikeout to end the third inning.

“This team can hit at the drop of a hat,” Hitz said. “Just knowing that our team is going to score more runs than (the opponent) gives the pitchers a little umph behind them.”

A home run by sophomore Mackenzie Wright in the bottom of the third inning gave the Shockers a 4-3 lead that the Shockers would not give up for the remainder of the game. Redshirt sophomore Paige Luellen hit a solo home run in the fourth inning to extend WSU’s lead 5-3.

With a runner 2nd, Tulsa looked to cut the deficit in the top of the fifth inning. A diving catch by center fielder, junior Ashley Johnson, and a foul out catch in right field by Luellen put the Shockers in a comfortable position.

Jodi Edmiston hit a line drive to center field that looked like that would score the Tulsa runner from second. But Johnson’s on-target throw from centerfield to freshman catcher Cassidy Kelsheimer, allowed the runner to be tagged out and ended the fifth inning with no damage by the Golden Hurricane.

“Our defense has been outstanding lately,” Bredbenner said. “Ashley coming up firing to Cassidy has been money at getting tags and preventing that runner from getting a good slide in. Anytime we throw somebody out at home, that fires us up.”

That defensive play rallied up a six run fifth inning, starting off with a single by junior Kelli Spring that scored on from third base off of an error by Tulsa. A squeeze bunt by redshirt senior Cacy Williams scored senior Brittany Fortner, and second home runs of the day hit by Hitz and Luellen ended the game in the fifth inning on the mercy rule 11-3.

“The thing we struggle with is that when we get runs, we let (opponents) score right back,” Luellen said. “Big plays (on the defensive end) are going to help us at the plate.”

Wednesday’s victory gives the Shockers their second win over a top 30 RPI opponent of the season, with Tulsa being No. 28 ranked, and beating No 24 ranked Nebraska earlier in the year.

Wichita State next travels to Normal, Illinois for a three-game series against Illinois State starting on Saturday.

“The bottom line is that we still have to take care of business in the Missouri Valley Conference,” Bredbenner said. “Illinois State is going to be a team wanting to beat us. We’ve swept the series from them the last two years and they want to end their year on a high note.”