Aulbach: Lady Toppers worth a look this summer

Lucas Aulbach

The Lady Toppers have spent this season turning the phrase “playing like a girl” into a compliment, and they aren’t finished yet.

WKU locked up win No. 40 Thursday in a 3-1 win over North Texas in the second round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and will face the winner of the Louisiana-Lafayette-Florida Atlantic winner Friday with a spot in the conference finals on the line.

Tyra Perry, your Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year, has had the Lady Toppers playing like a juggernaut over the course of the past month — after getting swept in a two-game series against Texas in early April, WKU (40-14, 21-3 SBC) has gone 20-1 since April 10, with the only loss coming on the road at No. 11 Missouri.

Domination in Sun Belt play has had a key role in that stretch. WKU has won 14 consecutive Sun Belt contests — the Lady Toppers haven’t lost to a conference opponent since March.

Perry isn’t shy when it comes to talking about goals for her team as the postseason looms.

“The sky’s the limit,” Perry said last week. “We have a team that has the will to win, and they have the talent.”

The best part of WKU’s record-setting season — Perry became the school’s winningest coach and Amanda Thomas set the all-time home run record this year — could just be getting started. The NCAA Tournament Regionals begin next Thursday and even if they fall short in the conference tournament, the Lady Toppers have a good shot at earning an at-large berth.

Some things will have to keep going WKU’s way, though, if the Lady Toppers hope to make noise in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

– WKU’s success on the mound has to keep up. The Lady Toppers have thrived off of the arm of junior pitcher Emily Rousseau, whose 23-5 record earned her Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year honors, as well as pitchers Mallorie Sulaski and Janna Scheff. WKU struggles, however, when the opponent is scoring — eight of the Lady Toppers’ 14 losses have come when their opponent puts up six or more runs.

– The Lady Toppers have to keep the long ball in play. Junior infielder Amanda Thomas has 13 home runs on the year, and sophomore infielder Preslie Cruce has 11. Teams with the best sluggers tend to do well come tournament time.

– And finally, don’t believe the hype. Picked to finish sixth in the preseason Sun Belt poll, the Lady Toppers exceeded almost all expectations in the regular season. The conference tournament is not a good time to let success get to your head.

Two games could stand between WKU and a Sun Belt title and NCAA Tournament berth.

The rest of the conference tournament is available for fans of the Lady Toppers to watch at Just don’t say they play like a bunch of girls.