The softball team earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Championship when it beat Willamette and Pacific Lutheran universities in the Northwest Conference softball tournament April 22 and 23.
Senior second baseman Alex Hartmann said that playing at home created a good atmosphere.
“Having our fans come out is an extra bonus, and playing on the field you are used to gives any team an advantage,” Hartmann said.
Junior pitcher Lauren Harvey agreed.
“It was nice to have home-field advantage especially since we had so few home games this year, and it was really nice to have fans come out and see the support,” Harvey said.
This was the first end-of-the-season softball tournament held by the NWC, and Harvey agreed with head coach Jackson Vaughan that it was an excellent opportunity to play more games.
“We got to play PLU twice, so getting to play what is considered a top team in the conference was good and challenged us,” Vaughan said. “PLU has plenty of offense so we took it as a challenge to step up our game against stronger competition.”
The ’Cats capped off the tournament with a convincing 11-6 win against PLU at home April 23. The offense came out strong in the first inning and put four runs on the board, peaking with a two-run home run hit by sophomore third baseman Karleigh Prestianni.
Junior catcher Emilee Lepp’s 27th home run of the season highlighted the next round. Earlier this week, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association named Lepp Co-National Player of the week for her performance April 12-19.
Lepp’s solo homer in the third inning, along with one RBI apiece from Prestianni and Hartmann, added three runs to the tally.
Prestianni, Hartmann and freshman designated hitter Ashley Garcia supplied four RBIs at the bottom of the fifth to extend the ’Cats’ lead to seven runs. PLU scored twice at the top of the seventh, bringing its total to six runs, which were short of what was necessary to force extra innings.
Senior Claire Velaski pitched five innings during her 19th season win. Harvey and freshman pitcher Karina Paavola each pitched one inning of relief.
The win came on the heels of a five-inning thrashing of PLU on April 22. The ’Cats put up runs in all but the third inning.
Hartmann and junior first baseman Staci Doucette, who each had two RBIs, brought in four of the ’Cat’s five first-inning runs.
Senior shortstop Emily Keagbine hit three-for-three and was one of five players, including Doucette, Lepp, Hartmann and junior outfielder Jaydee Baxter, to have a multiple-hit game.
Lepp cleared the loaded bases with a grand slam at the bottom of the fifth, ending the game 11-2.
Harvey and Paavola each gave up one run in the game. Harvey helped earn the win with three innings pitched.
This was the second game of the day for the Wildcats, who put away Willamette 4-2, earlier that afternoon.
Hartmann said pitching and defense have been solid all year, especially when it came down to closer, lower-scoring games.
“We’re confident in every single one of our pitchers, and we work really hard on defense,” she said. “When we aren’t putting up a lot of runs, our defense and pitching have always been there to back us up.”
Velaski pitched all seven innings. Three-for-four hitting by senior outfielder Kayla Hubrich and RBIs from Lepp, Doucette and Prestianni supported her effort.
The team will have two weekends to prepare for the regional tournament that begins May 12. Venue, time and opponent have yet to be announced.
Rae Smith/Staff reporter
Rae Smith can be reached at email@example.com.