Wichita State's Mighty Offense Just Keeps Producing
Tony Perrigan told his daughter, Madison, that she was being polished like the sparkling diamond she would become. The raw, uncut stone has the potential to become a sparkling luxury item once someone puts in the effort to unlock its full potential.
His analogy referred to the work Wichita State head coach Kristi Bredbenner and hitting coach Elizabeth Economon do with their hitters in the program. They don’t teach a specific angle for a bat path. They don’t ask young women to completely change swings they’ve used for most of their lives. Instead, they look for talented players and enhance them.
“I’m not a big cookie-cutter type of swing person,” Economon said. “I like to take their strengths and what they bring to the table, make them more well-rounded...Instead of changing their swing or doing anything crazy, we are going to take all of their strengths and utilize them at the same time.”
That approach has clearly worked for the Shockers. Heading into its pivotal American Athletic Conference series against South Florida starting on April 23, Wichita State is one of four Division I programs—Oklahoma, Arkansas and Arizona State are the others—to have hit over 70 home runs as a team this season. Not to mention, they are also in the Top 25 in the nation in team batting average, slugging percentage and scoring.
From a player's perspective, the ideology that they don’t have to wholly alter the swing they’ve used for the past decade takes pressure off of them. Perrigan, who took over the program’s all-time home run and RBI record this season, thoroughly enjoys Economon’s coaching style.
“It’s very important for hitters when they come to college that their hitting coach has a philosophy like coach Economon, that she doesn’t try to change everything about your swing,” Perrigan said. “You come in and your swing is your swing, she’s going to polish you up and make you a confident hitter. It’s exactly what she’s done, everyone through the lineup, one through nine, all of the pinch hitters, all feel like they have the best swing.”
Wichita State finds itself ranked in multiple polls including No. 20 in Softball America’s latest rankings behind a 32-6-1 record powered by the team's offense. Despite already surpassing the program’s record for home runs with plenty of games left, their dominance at the plate isn’t anything new for the Shockers. Take a look into the program’s record book and you’ll find that the best offensive seasons have occurred after 2012, the year Bredbenner took over the reins.
“We’ve always been a good hitting team, so I wouldn’t say this is an anomaly,” Bredbenner said. “Over the 10 years that I’ve been here at Wichita State, we usually led the league in batting average and things like that. It’s not to say that this is historical change, it’s one of those (years) we’ve been able to put the power numbers out there. I think a lot of that is barrel control, having a good plan, using technology to scout, knowing who we are going to face and sticking with our plan.”
If there needed to be any more proof about the Shockers’ style of hitting, look no further than Wichita State true freshman outfielder Addison Barnard. The Nebraska native’s 18 home runs this season have already set the new single-season program record and puts her up there alongside Oklahoma’s Jocelyn Alo and Arkansas’ Braxton Burnside as the nation’s individual leaders in the category.
Bredbenner and Economon knew coming in that Barnard had a ton of natural power and bat speed. The challenge for them was knowing they’d need to help her adjust once other teams started to have film on her. Well, 36 games into her career and it appears that the Wichita State coaching staff and Barnard have been one move ahead of the competition on the chess board.
Barnard has had a special season, and if it weren’t for Tiare Jennings’ stardom for the top-ranked Sooners, the Shocker freshman might be garnering more national attention.
“In 19, 20 seasons of coaching softball, we’ve never had a freshman hit the number of home runs that she’s had,” Bredbenner said. “She’s got great arm strength, strength in her legs, great power, but she’s got really good bat speed and she can deliver the barrel in the zone a little bit quicker than most. It’s been awesome to watch and hopefully it can continue.”
The plan for Barnard emulates a lot of the work Economon does during the week. She watches a ton of film to find the weaknesses in opposing pitchers, hints in their body language about their pitches, sequences, anything to help prepare her team for that week’s opponent. Each hitting station at practice is influenced by the information brought, whether it be tee work or the way batting practice is thrown.
In a week in which the Shockers don’t have a mid-week contest, Wichita State dedicates a day to preparing for a certain pitcher they’ll see in a weekend series. The ace of that team—South Florida’s Georgina Corrick, for example—will be the first pitcher watched at the film station because it allows the team to process it longer. Economon says her players have really taken in the film portion of practice and have been excited watching and learning from it.
Economon mentioned there is a battle to having the advanced resources in the game now because for every bit of video a team takes in, the opposition is doing the same. Every hitter is different as well, some want as much knowledge as possible and some don’t want any. That’s the reason why Economon knows that she has to focus on her own team’s strengths more than anything else.
“We try to take care of ourselves as hitters more than what others are going to do to us,” Economon said. “Yes, we like the information like what their go-to pitches are, but if you’re picking out a good pitch to put your best swing on, it doesn’t really matter.”
Bredbenner and Economon aren’t making any magic potions for their Shocker lineup. They’ve kept it simple at Wichita State and it has continued to pay off.