RH: The strength of the Shockers schedule helps build a comprehensive resume

The round house | 05/19/2022 12:28:00 p.m

Paul Suellentrop Byline

In February 2014, Caitlin Bingham settled on softball at a non-conference venue and two NCAA regional appearances, most recently in 2005, on his resume.


More than eight years later, Bingham is a senior pitcher at Wichita State as the Shockers prepare for their fourth NCAA appearance in that span, three with Bingham on the list. On Sunday, the Shockers earned a regional spot in consecutive seasons for the first time. They play Oregon (31-17) in the Fayetteville Regional on Friday (7:30 p.m. ESPN+).


When Bingham thinks back to her recruiting visit as a freshman in high school, she thinks of the coaching path Kristi Bredbenner described the structure of the team. Visited Bingham with Catcher Madison Perrigan, both from Oklahoma, and both committed shortly after the trip. Perrigan, a year older, came to Wichita State for the 2017 season and left as a career home run leader. Bingham came the next year.


“What really drew me here was Coach B,” said Bingham. “She portrayed a family-based program. It focused on ‘We’re going to be a team and we’re going to win as a team.’ They were on the rise. She delivered all of these things. “


Sunday’s NCAA selection show was delivered for the state of Wichita. The Shockers snagged an at-large offer that adds another tier to the program’s rise.


“Back-to-back is huge,” Bredbenner said. “I think the kids are learning and understanding what it takes to be successful. Reputation helped us a lot this year by hitting our home runs.”


For the Shockers (33-16), the run of NCAA bids proves Wichita State can compete for NCAA spots annually. Back-to-back bids – automatic in 2021 – show the Shockers can deliver after the departure of founding players like Perrigan and Pitcher Bailey Long.


Thirty-two teams received free bids for the 64-team field. Thirty of those spots went to schools in the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pacific-12, and Big 10 conferences. Wichita State and USF of the American Athletic Conference grabbed the remaining two spots.


“We all know that’s the goal – to make it to the regional league every year,” said the senior first baseman Neleigh Herring called. “To make it two years in a row, we’re still climbing.”


Bredbenner takes the achievements of 2016, 2018 and 2021 and adds Wichita State’s status as one of the top batting teams in the state. She wants that brand — NCAA game wins and power hitting — to give the Shockers an advantage at pick time.


“That’s the kind of reputation we want to have in the postseason — that Wichita State is synonymous with getting into the tournament,” Bredbenner said. “It takes time. It takes culture. It takes your children’s faith.”



 

That belief begins with winning NCAA games and the Shockers with victories over Tulsa, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. It helps to play in this part of the country where softball matters — the Women’s College World Series is held in Oklahoma City every spring. The roster is regional – Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.


Bingham and Herring are the Shockers who also played on the 2018 regional team. They twice defeated Oklahoma State in Fayetteville to become the first Shocker team to advance to a regional championship round. After a 32-24 record in 2019 and a COVID disruption in 2020, the Shockers swept the American Athletic Conference regular season and tournament to return to NCAA play in 2021.


The 2022 team had to cope with the departure of several experienced players who started in the 2018 team. They broke the cycle of previous seasons in which an NCAA offer was followed by a successful season that was not up to the general standard.


When the Shockers regrouped for practice last fall, their minds were fresh on two wins against Texas A&M and spirited efforts against eventual champion Oklahoma in the region. They considered themselves a regional team.


“It’s the expectation,” Bingham said. “We’re not just trying to go to the conference tournament. We come in August and we’re like, ‘Okay, we’re making it into the NCAA postseason.’ I don’t think there is anyone’s doubt.”


Bingham, then a senior in high school, watched the Shockers beat Tulsa in the 2016 Norman NCAA game. Herring watched the Shockers on ESPN. It was impressive for Oklahomans to play on the Sooners field and compete on that stage.


“You’re about to get on campus and be a part of it,” Bingham said. “Seeing them go and compete in the Norman region I think was a big thing for me. It was, ‘Wow, I’m going to a school where I can go and I can compete against these top teams. I will compete in the postseason. I go to a big program that I can go to and help.


The Shockers opened the 2016 season with a 7-2 loss to Oklahoma and then defeated Tulsa 2-1. A 4-0 loss to Mississippi ended her NCAA stint.


“It showed me that the program just kept getting better,” Herring said. “I knew it was moving in the right direction and they were doing the right things. It was exciting just to be a part of it.”


The Shockers received the first bid at large from Bredbenner’s time in 2018. The benefits of a tough non-conference schedule and the American game were evident. The AAC secured two spots at large in 2019 and 2021, and three in 2018. Last season, Wichita State, UCF, and USF all played in the regional championship round. All three returned to the NCAAs that season, with UCF hosting as the No. 16 national seed after winning regular-season and tournament titles.


The Shockers are beefing up their schedule by taking to the streets early in the season. That year, in February and March, they played NCAA teams such as Illinois, Minnesota, Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. They played just 11 home games and won 67 percent of their games with four of those home games against NCAA regional hosts Oklahoma State and UCF.


“Away wins are bigger deals than home wins,” said Bredbenner. “We took this motto and rode with it. Going forward, we have to stick to our philosophy of planning a lot of the good regional teams we play against – Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, and they’re all on our schedule for next year.”


In August, the Shockers will return to campus and seek a third straight NCAA spot. As always, the team will miss their seniors and newcomers will hear stories of how things are done. Each season, these stories reinforce expectations that began years ago.


Paul Sullentrop includes Wichita State Athletics and the American Athletic Conference for strategic communications at the university. Story suggestion? Contact him at [email protected]


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