Wichita State softball looks to capitalize on home-field advantage in AAC tournament

The American Athletic Conference softball tournament figures to be the most competitive it’s ever been with seven teams ranked in the top-85 of the RPI.

With so many contenders for the automatic berth to an NCAA regional, Wichita State holds a key edge in the postseason: home-field advantage.

Wilkins Stadium will host the single-elimination conference tournament, which begins Wednesday and crowns the AAC champion Sunday. The Shockers (25-21) are the No. 4 seed and open play against No. 9 seed UTSA (15-41) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The winner faces the Tulsa-South Florida winner at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Both games will be streamed on ESPN+.

Single-session tickets, beginning at $10 per adult, can be purchased through the WSU ticket office.

“Home-field advantage is everything,” WSU head coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “If we can have a big crowd, we’re going to feel good about where we’re at, we can sleep in our own beds, you’ve got to think that’s going to be a little bit of an advantage.

“It’s going to be a great experience for our fans and it’s going to be a really great softball tournament. The American is brutally tough, so there’s going to be a lot of really high-level games in Wichita this week.”

For the past three seasons, WSU has felt confident entering the conference tournament it already had a bid secured. That is not the case this season, however, as WSU’s RPI of 57 is considered to currently be on the wrong side of the bubble.

WSU is tied for the most top-50 RPI wins (6) in the conference and has played 32 of 45 games against top-100 competition, but a spotty 11-12 record against teams ranked 26-100 is a reason why the Shockers are projected as the fifth team out of the postseason, according to D1Softball.

Wins over Tulsa (63 RPI) and Florida Atlantic (40 RPI) in a potential run to the final would certainly bolster WSU’s résumé, but a championship this weekend is the only scenario where the Shockers would feel certain about a fourth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament.

There will be no discussion of games beyond this week from Bredbenner, who is hammering home a “one-game-at-a-time” approach to her team, which has flashed NCAA quality but lacked consistency.

“We have to stay in the moment, which is something we’ve struggled with in the last month,” Bredbenner said. “We’ve got to focus on the present and what we can do in the moment, not about what the outcome could potentially be. I think anybody can win this tournament and I like our chances as much as anybody.”

What has Bredbenner feeling confident entering the conference tournament is the resurgence of the WSU pitching staff.

After facing adversity in the middle of the season, freshman standout Chloe Barber has regained her dominant form in the circle the past two weeks. She is 4-1 in her last five starts, including her first career no-hitter in a five-inning win over Memphis this past weekend, to go along with a minuscule 0.96 earned run average and 50 strikeouts in 29 innings.

Veteran Lauren Howell has a 1.81 ERA in her last seven appearances and is coming off one of her best starts of the season, a one-hit, complete-game shutout of Memphis. Since throwing six shutout innings against Oklahoma on April 9, left-hander Alison Cooper has a 1.82 ERA in her last six appearances.

Sophomore Alex Aguilar has allowed just one earned run in her last two relief appearances, spanning seven-plus innings.

“The last couple of weeks, our pitchers have done a really nice job,” Bredbenner said. “I would think that makes our hitters feel a little bit better. But I got on our hitters this last weekend (against Memphis) for not hitting as well and I thought we should have.”

WSU’s offense is still good, but no longer the juggernaut it has been the previous three seasons when the Shockers hit at least .313 as a team with 70-plus home runs and more than 6.5 runs per game. The power is still there with the trio of Addison Barnard (18 home runs), C.C. Wong (14) and Taylor Sedlacek (13), but the Shockers are hitting .280 as a team this season and averaging 5.48 runs per game, the lowest marks since 2019.

But with the pedigree of the program, star players like Barnard, Wong and Barber, and a deep pitching staff, the Shockers believe they are well-equipped to win a tournament championship for the first time since 2021.

“We’ve got to get it going with all three facets,” Bredbenner said. “Our defense is coming together, our pitching is getting to where it needs to be, we just need to get our bats going and capitalize when we have runners in scoring position. We feel like we’ve got as good of chance as anybody.”

AAC softball tournament schedule

Note: All games will be streamed on ESPN+ with the exception of Saturday’s championship, which will be televised on ESPN2.

Wednesday’s first round

Game 1: No. 6 UAB (23-28) vs. 7 East Carolina (37-18), 10 a.m.

Game 2: No. 3 North Texas (30-23) vs. No. 10 Memphis (6-43), 1 p.m.

Game 3: No. 5 Tulsa (29-22) vs. No. 8 South Florida (34-21), 4

Game 4: No. 4 Wichita State (25-21) vs. No. 9 UTSA (15-41), 7

Thursday’s second round

Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, noon

Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 2:30 p.m.

Friday’s semifinals

Game 7: No. 2 Charlotte (36-16) vs. Game 5 winner, noon

Game 8: No. 1 Florida Atlantic (41-13) vs. Game 6 winner, 2:30 p.m.

Saturday’s championship

Game 9: Semifinal winners, 11 a.m.

Wichita State women’s basketball assistant coach on the move

Entering his second season at the helm of the WSU women’s basketball program, head coach Terry Nooner will be looking to make a new addition to his coaching staff.

Assistant coach Nick Bradford, who was given his first shot at the Division I level by Nooner, is reportedly leaving WSU to take an assistant coaching position at Arkansas in the SEC.

Bradford and Nooner were teammates on the University of Kansas men’s basketball team, where they played for legendary coach Roy Williams.

Prior to joining WSU, Bradford worked the four previous years as an assistant boys basketball coach for Fayetteville High School, the same city where the University of Arkansas is located.

WSU’s other two assistant coaches are Wichita native Antwain Scales and Brooke Costley.

The program also recently announced it has scheduled an international trip this summer, as the Shockers will play in the U.S. Virgin Islands from July 28-Aug. 2.

WSU will play two games against opponents to be announced later, the first game on July 30 and the second on July 31.