Emotional end for Addison Barnard to historic, record-breaking Shocker softball career

The tears didn’t come until the realization set in.

This really could be it.

After four years of bashing her way into the history books and helping turn Wichita State softball into a regional power, Addison Barnard likely played the final game of her record-breaking career on Saturday in the American Athletic Conference tournament championship game at Wilkins Stadium.

Charlotte opted to intentionally walk her all three times she came to the plate, the ultimate sign of respect from an NCAA Tournament team but also a savvy move after Barnard battered six home runs in nine at-bats in the three days prior. Taking Barnard’s bat out of play effectively silenced the Shockers in an 11-1 run-rule victory by Charlotte.

Even in a losing cause, Barnard was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. She currently sits alone at No. 4 all-time in NCAA history with 93 career home runs and ranks top 10 in career slugging percentage (.873), while holding the single-season NCAA record for home runs per game (0.63). She holds the WSU single-season and career records in home runs, RBIs, total bases, slugging percentage and stolen bases, and her name will forever be linked with Sydney McKinney as the best to ever come through Wichita.

“But I would trade all of the accolades to have one more game with this team,” Barnard said with tears in her eyes.

It’s still possible for the Shockers to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, although WSU head coach Kristi Bredbenner labeled it a “long shot.” It’s more likely WSU (28-22) will be haunted by a 2-9 record in one-run games this season, which could spoil the chances for a fourth straight bid to postseason play.

That forced WSU to deal with a heartbreaking reality: Barnard, along with fellow seniors Bailey Urban, Lainee Brown, Jessica Garcia, C.C. Wong, Lauren Howell and Madyson Espinosa, had just played their final game.

“This team means the world to me and Wichita State has grown me so much as a player and as a person,” Barnard said. “I came out of this program a better person and that’s what matters. It’s really heartbreaking because we really wanted to win this one. We still have a chance and I’m just so happy I got the opportunity to be here today and play with this team.”

Spurred on by a rambunctious home crowd, WSU’s offense came to life this week, pumping out 36 runs in three games to reach Saturday’s final. Barnard had accounted for 13 of those runs with just seven swings of the bat.

After watching Barnard almost single-handedly lift WSU to three straight wins, Charlotte coach Ashley Chastain made the decision before the championship game even began that she wasn’t going to let the All-America slugger beat the Niners. It may have elicited boos from the hometown crowd, but it proved to be a wise decision.

“We have so much respect for her and her career, I just didn’t want the game to come down to her beating us,” Chastain said. “We think she’s one of the best hitters in the country. It’s not that we don’t think (our pitchers) could get her out, it’s more respect for her and her career.”

“They were the first ones smart enough to walk Addie and you saw what happened,” Bredbenner said. “She carried us all weekend in a big way and they took that away from us. It was a great game plan by them and they executed well. They were better than us today.”

Even if Barnard was given the chance to swing away, it might not have mattered on Saturday. Charlotte played a complete game, banging out 13 hits on offense and limiting WSU’s once-explosive offense to four hits in five innings.

The effects of playing a fourth game in four days was evident in WSU’s performance in the circle. Freshman Chloe Barber started for a third straight day after throwing more than nine innings and 182 pitches in the prior 48 hours, while Charlotte hit all three WSU pitchers hard on Saturday.

“That’s the perks of being a top-2 seed and only having to play two games,” Bredbenner said. “They have two really good aces and you can throw one each game and stay fresh, where Chloe was going out there for a (third) day in a row and trying to throw fresh softball. That’s a tough challenge.”

WSU’s lone rally came in the top of the fourth inning, trailing 8-0 with the bases loaded and two out, when Wong drove a ball down the left-field line that the third-base umpire ruled foul. Even upon replay review, it was difficult to tell if the ball caught the painted line or not — if it did, WSU would have scored at least two runs with Barnard coming up to the plate.

Instead, it was ruled a foul ball (and a non-reviewable play) and Wong struck out swinging two pitches later to end the threat.

“To me, that’s a game-changer,” Bredbenner said. “It’s a tough call for the umpire and I wouldn’t want to be an umpire in this day and age with the fans, the coaches and the players on them. But that’s a reviewable moment, so if you call that fair, then you can go and review it and change it. But when you call it foul, it takes the review away. That was a tough one for us.”

Even with the storybook ending spoiled, Barnard’s stretch this week will be remembered as the best stretch of a career that might never be matched.

“She set so many records for the NCAA and for Wichita State, I hope those are someday broken by another Shocker, but it’s going to be really hard,” Bredbenner said. “That was a high bar she set. She’s always been a great leader by example for us, but this year, she was so much more than that to this team. She took them on her back and she led them vocally and did such a great job. I’m so proud of her.”

Saturday provided a moment that is becoming increasingly rare in college sports: a farewell by an athlete who invested all four years with the same team, led them to new heights and had a genuine bond with the fans and program.

In the age of the transfer portal, Barnard could have suited up for any team in the country after her breakout seasons. But Barnard proved loyal to the team and coach who discovered her as an overlooked and under-recruited farm girl from Beatrice, Nebraska.

After four years, she had no regrets about her decision when she left Wilkins Stadium for the final time on Saturday.

“If you love it somewhere, why would I leave?” Barnard said. “The coaches have grown me so much and taken me under their wing. They took a chance on me. I would never leave a program that’s helped me so much.”