Lady Tops leaning on young pitchers’ experience

WKU sophomore Kim Wagner pitches to Samford’s batter during the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader. WKU lost the first game 4-3 and won the second 8-0.

Nick Bratcher

The Lady Toppers’ sophomore starting pitchers hardly seem like seasoned veterans at first glance.

But the WKU (21-17, 3-6 Sun Belt Conference) pitching duo of Mallorie Sulaski and Kim Wagner tell a slightly different tale than their class rank suggests.

The pair has started 68 total games and recorded 283 innings combined over the past two seasons.

And Head Coach Tyra Perry said the two sophomores could use a reminder of that fact.

“Make sure you tell them that,” Perry said. “They have to act like it.”

Perry said the youth that surrounds the pitching staff puts more pressure on the WKU hurlers than an average pitcher but that the two have the tools to find a way to succeed.

 “I know they feel pressure,” she said. “It’s really in their hands. It is a lot easier when you’re younger and you have an older team, but it’s not necessary for success.”

Sulaski has started the season with a 9-7 record and a 2.11 earned run average. She said she uses the pressure as motivation to stay focused instead of allowing it to shake her from the goal.

“I focus every pitch and make sure I’m leading my team to a win instead of letting runners on base and putting us behind,” she said. “I do feel pressure to go out there and make sure I’m focused so I can make every pitch.”

Wagner said she builds up her own confidence to deal with the stress created by such a young supporting cast.

“I tell myself I’m great and that the hitter can’t beat me,” she said. “I know the team has my back if I can get a ground ball or a fly ball, so she has to earn the hit to score a run.”

Wagner (10-7) has rebounded in April to win her last two starts against North Texas and Samford after suffering a rocky four-game losing streak in March.

She said she tweaked a few things in her game and continued believing in herself to get the positive results.

“I never lost confidence in myself,” she said. “It’s a good feeling to know that you can get it done in a tough situation and proving it to yourself. Instead of just telling yourself that all the time, it actually happens.”

Perry said Wagner’s game is peaking at a crucial time for the Lady Toppers, who currently sit in sixth place in the Sun Belt Conference.

The Lady Toppers will look to improve their situation this weekend in a three-game series at Troy, playing a doubleheader on Saturday at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and a series finale on Sunday at 1 p.m.

“Kim is making a lot of progress,” Perry said. “She’s hitting her stride, and I’m excited for her because she is continuing to evolve and get better.”

Perry said Wagner’s growth serves as an example because the excuse of inexperience has stopped now that the Lady Toppers are two months into the season.

“We’re young, but it’s April, and it’s time to grow up and do the things we’re supposed to do,” Perry said. “With the weather at the beginning of the season, it’s difficult to get out and work, but now they’ve worked on everything, and they know what to do.”