Season-itis: Lady Toppers looking for fresh start in conference tournament

Senior outfielder Kelise Mattox runs home after a passed throwing error by South Alabama during the first game of their double header Saturday. The Lady Toppers lost 3-2. (Ian Maule/HERALD)

Austin Lanter

The WKU Lady Topper softball team will enter its final Sun Belt Conference Tournament having lost eight of its last nine games.

WKU (32-22-1, 11-10 Sun Belt Conference) will be the No. 4 seed in the tournament and play the winner of Texas State and UT-Arlington Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in Lafayette, La.

Despite the rough patch down the stretch, Head Coach Amy Tudor said this is like a new season for her team.

“It doesn’t matter what your record is or how many games you’ve won going into the tournament,” Tudor said. “You have to play each game by each game and I feel like we’ll be ready. We have a lot of seniors and a lot of upperclassman that have been there and done it and that’s what we are going to lean on.”

WKU has played against ranked opponents in four of its last nine games and played another game against a team receiving votes in the top 25.

Junior infielder Preslie Cruce agreed with her coach and knows the Lady Toppers are better than the teams they’ve lost to down the stretch.

“I’m ready to throw those wins and losses out the door,” Cruce said. “I know that our team is a great enough team to be able to beat these teams. I think that we’ve hit well and all it’s going to take is our pitchers to just come out there and perform and we’ve got their back defensively, offensively. I think we can beat any of these teams, no doubt.”

Even though the team lost those games, Cruce said the experience against tough competition will serve the Lady Toppers well in the conference tournament.

“The tough schedule at the end I think really gave our younger people experience because they haven’t seen all the pitchers, like South (Alabama), (Louisiana) Lafayette, and Georgia State,” Cruce said. “Now they’ve seen them all and that’s experience for us as a team.

“I think since we’ve lost these past few games going into the tournament, it’s a great time for revenge,” she said.

WKU finished runner-up in the championship game last year after a loss to South Alabama in the title game. The Lady Toppers returned five All-Sun Belt players from last season. It’s that experience, Cruce believes, that will serve in the team’s favor this time in the tournament.

“We have amazing upperclassman,” Cruce said. “These girls are great and I know that they know when to perform. I know that for the senior class it could be their last game so they’re going to be putting it all out of the field.”

WKU is a combined 5-1 against the teams from Texas this season. The Lady Toppers swept UT-Arlington and took games one and two from Texas State before being run-ruled in the finale.

The tournament begins Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. in Lafayette with the Lady Toppers playing the winner of Texas State-UT-Arlington at 5:30 p.m.

“We’d rather play UT-Arlington, we swept them,” Tudor said. “Texas State has a really good pitcher, she has a really good change up. Making adjustments was difficult for us but we did pull off two wins there.”

In the end, Tudor’s confidence in her team is strong.

“We’re going to be ready for whoever we play,” she said.