WKU’s revamped softball roster looking ahead to 2022

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Gunnar Word / WKU Athletics

WKU junior infielder TJ Webster encourages fifth-year pitcher Shelby Nunn during WKU’s exhibition doubleheader against Austin Peay on Oct. 12, 2021.

Jake Moore, Sports Editor

It’s never easy to defend a title.

WKU Softball won its second Conference USA tournament championship in May and tacked on a victory against UNC Greensboro in the NCAA Regionals for good measure. Despite this pile of accolades, head coach Amy Tudor and company got right back to business to build 2022’s roster.

“We enjoyed going to the NCAA tournament, but after that’s over we know that we have to get back on the recruiting trail,” Tudor said following her program’s final fall ball exhibition. “That’s basically what we did all summer, just a normal recruiting summer.”

The Hilltoppers lost a handful of impact players from their championship roster over the break, both to graduation and the transfer portal. Tudor’s program has since brought in a pair of transfers and five new freshmen to help fill in the gaps.

“I think they’re all talented,” Tudor said. “I think they all have different gifts that can help us win a lot of games. I feel like they need to get comfortable and they need experience.”

First on the to-do list was finding a player who could mimic the offensive production of leadoff slugger Paige Carter. Carter graduated with her name all over WKU’s record book, placing fourth all-time in total home runs (29), RBI (123), walks (80), on-base percentage (.398) and slugging (.534). 

Bailey Curry, a native of Frankfort, slugged .508 and hit 15 home runs across three seasons with the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. Tudor knew she was the player for the job.

“We knew we needed to replace a big bat, knowing Paige was graduating, and that was a hole we wanted to fill,” Tudor said. “She did great things down there, she played some of the best in the country, and I felt like she could step in and have an immediate impact.”

The next order of business: restructure the pitching rotation. The Hilltoppers depended on fireball pitcher Kelsey Aikey to shoulder most of the work in the early part of the 2021 season. When she was sidelined late in the year due to injury, Shelby Nunn, Katie Gardner and two-way phenom Kennedy Sullivan stepped up to share the circle.

Aikey has since graduated and Sullivan transferred to Kentucky, but the fifth-year Nunn is staying on the Hill to anchor the rotation and share her knowledge of the game with Gardner, sophomore Kelsie Houchens and freshman Savannah Fierke.

“Nunn is sweet,” Tudor said. “Nunn cares about her teammates and she goes the extra mile to do what’s asked of her. I think her impact, on and off the field, is a big reason why the pitching staff feels so comfortable. I think Katie [Gardner] and Nunn both have different tools, and they’re both quality No. 1’s.”

Nunn is ready and excited to be the locker room’s veteran resource once the 2022 season kicks off.

“[It’s] not necessarily showing them the ropes, but just leading by example,” Nunn said. “Really offering myself and making myself available for them and anything that they need.”

Besides the pitching staff, Tudor needed to find a catcher to replace the hole left by Kendall Smith, now a member of the Louisville Cardinals’ roster. The Hilltoppers called upon Bowling Green native Jessica Bush at Lipscomb, who had played with Nunn during their days at South Warren High School.

“Shelby and I have been good friends even after she graduated so off the field we have good chemistry,” Bush said. “I feel like on the field it’s still growing.”

Nunn is happy to have a familiar face behind the plate, sharing that “it’s just a joy pitching to her.”

Besides the transfers, the crop of freshmen is already making an impact. Kasia Parks, a native of Lexington, flashed the leather in left field during WKU’s fall ball doubleheader against Austin Peay. Parks laid out for a catch at the warning track that was so spectacular, Tudor was reminded of the defensive exploits of Larissa Franklin, former Hilltopper and 2020 olympic medalist.

“Kasia’s catch is one of the best I’ve seen as a coach, and coaching Larissa Franklin I got to see a lot of great catches,” Tudor said. 

The roster may look a bit different compared to May of 2021, but the Hilltoppers are hungry and loaded with talent. Nunn has but one simple goal for her final year on the Hill:

“Just continue to rock out,” Nunn said. “Continue what we do best. There’s a lot of things we need to work on this offseason, so I think [we just need to] work on what we need to do individually and hope to make the most impact in the spring.”

Sports Editor Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Charles_JMoore.