Who, when and which regional Wichita State softball plays in NCAA tournament

For a program-record third straight year, Wichita State will play in the NCAA softball tournament.

And this time, the Shockers have arguably the most favorable draw they’ve ever received from the NCAA selection committee.

Wichita State is heading to the Stillwater Regional hosted by No. 6 national seed Oklahoma State, where the Shockers will be the No. 2 seed in the regional after posting a 43-10 record and winning the American Athletic Conference regular-season championship. OSU (41-14) and WSU will be joined by No. 3 seed Nebraska (34-20) and No. 4 seed and four-time defending America East champions UMBC (26-15).

“Excitement for our program, excitement for these young ladies,” WSU head coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “They’ve worked really hard to achieve something special this year and it’s a great feeling to know our season continues in a drive-able spot, where I think we can be pretty competitive in. It gets you fired up.”

The double-elimination tournament at Cowgirl Stadium will begin for WSU with an opening game against Nebraska at 6 p.m. with the game broadcast on ESPNU. Friday’s winners will play in the first of three games at 2 p.m. Saturday, while Friday’s losing teams will face off in an elimination game in the second game Saturday.

The loser of Saturday’s first game will play the winner of Saturday’s second game at approximately 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to Sunday’s regional championship series against the 2-0 team in a 3 p.m. game. If necessary, a second game will be played.

WSU fans interested in buying tickets to the Stillwater Regional can do so through Oklahoma State’s website starting on Tuesday.

“We’re going in as the underdog,” WSU All-American senior shortstop Sydney McKinney said. “Oklahoma State is the (top) seed. They’re supposed to win, but they know we’re coming for them. I’m excited to go out there and work hard and see if we can get them.”

Not only do the Shockers likely have the most balanced team in their history under Bredbenner, who has now guided the program to five of its seven postseason bids, but they are also armed with the confidence from their season sweep of Oklahoma State.

WSU rallied to win 8-7 at Wilkins Stadium on April 4, then freshman Sami Hood’s extra-innings bomb spurred a 3-1 victory in Stillwater on April 18. OSU enters the postseason having lost 11 of its final 13 games.

The Shockers are also 2-0 this season against their first opponent, Nebraska, a team they beat 10-8 and run-ruled 10-1 in back-to-back days in March.

The winner of the No. 6 Oklahoma State regional will face the winner of the No. 11 Arkansas regional in next week’s NCAA Super Regional. The Shockers also hold a 10-2 run-rule victory over Arkansas from earlier in this season.

“Even though we’ve already beat them, it’s anyone’s game in regionals,” WSU ace Lauren Howell said. “We’re confident going in, but I know we’re going to get everyone’s best game. So we have to just play our game.”

With an at-large bid clearly in hand entering Sunday night, the only bout of nervousness WSU had to endure this year was where it would be sent. Regionals hosted by Oklahoma State or Arkansas, another power-conference team WSU beat this season, were acceptable.

The Shockers’ only fear was being banished to No. 1 seed Oklahoma’s region again, like the 2021 WSU team that was believed to be good enough to reach a Super Regional — just about anywhere other than in Norman.

“We have played so well this year, I knew we were getting in, we just didn’t know where we were going to,” McKinney said. “I thought it was between Stillwater and Arkansas. Stillwater is a great matchup for us. We’ve got to get through Nebraska first and then go right at Oklahoma State.”

In order to advance to its first Super Regional, however, WSU will have to snap out of its late-season funk on offense, as the Shockers produced just 14 hits and four runs in their last three games. WSU lost its regular-season finale, 3-1, at Kansas and then was stunned, 2-1, in extra innings by Tulsa in its opening AAC tournament game.

But the body of a 53-game schedule suggests the Shockers are one of the most dangerous No. 2 seeds in the country. WSU is led by big bats in the lineup in McKinney, Lauren Lucas, Addison Barnard, Lauren Mills and Zoe Jones and timely hitters in Taylor Sedlacek, Lainee Brown, Krystin Nelson and Hood.

What should give the Shockers even more confidence this year, though, is the strength of their pitching staff, which has been a concern entering the postseason in recent seasons. Arkansas transfer Lauren Howell (18-4, 2.32 ERA) has blossomed into an ace, while freshman Alex Aguilar (14-2, 1.54 ERA) was voted the AAC Rookie of the Year and fiery left-hander Alison Cooper (11-4, 2.96 ERA) gives WSU another weapon.

“I think it’s about not making the situation bigger than it is,” Howell said. “Maybe the last few games we felt the pressure, but we just have to play our game and give it our best every single game.”

WSU has twice played in an NCAA Regional championship game needing two wins to advance, but lost the first game both times — a 6-4 setback to Arkansas in the 2018 Fayetteville Regional, then a 24-7 loss to Oklahoma in the 2021 Norman Regional. The Shockers are 6-12 all-time in postseason play with all wins coming under Bredbenner.