Wildcats Enter As Top Dog At GNAC Softball Championships
Central Washington is 8-5 all-time in the GNAC Championships after going 4-1 in 2016. The Wildcats won four straight after losing to Western Oregon in the opening game.
Central Washington is 8-5 all-time in the GNAC Championships after going 4-1 in 2016. The Wildcats won four straight after losing to Western Oregon in the opening game.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

LACEY, Wash. – For the second straight year, Central Washington will be the team to beat as the 2017 GNAC Softball Championships return to Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Wash., on Thursday.

Under second year head coach Mike Larabee, Central Washington led the conference regular season race from start to finish. The Wildcats claimed the regular season title on Saturday with a win over Concordia and enters the tournament with a 33-13 overall record.

While the Wildcats proved dominant in the regular season, the tournament’s three other teams shown the ability to give the defending champs a challenge. No. 3 seed Saint Martin’s took three of four games from CWU in the final two weeks while No. 4 seed Western Oregon swept the Wildcats in a doubleheader on Sunday to claim its tournament spot. No. 2 seed Western Washington, meanwhile, enters the championships on an eight-game win streak.

The winner of the double-elimination tournament, which concludes Saturday, will receive the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Division II National Tournament.

After struggling some in February against a non-conference schedule laden by top-25 teams, the Wildcats went on a 15-game win streak in March and a 14-game conference win streak that went well into April. Central Washington did not lose more than two consecutive games until the final week of the regular season, hitting a pair of three-game skids over the final seven days.

Central Washington, however, is no stranger to adversity. After losing the first game of both last year’s GNAC Championships and NCAA West Regional, the Wildcats came back to win both tournaments.

The Wildcats enter the GNAC Championships as the top hitting and pitching team in the league, amassing a .345 team batting average and 2.88 earned run average, and rank among the top-30 in Division II in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage.

Senior Kailyn Campbell paces eight CWU players batting .300 or better with her league-leading .488 average, ranking fifth in Division II. Junior Celine Fowler is hitting .366 while senior Taylor Ferleman is batting .356. Senior Kiana Wood has carried the pitching load once again and leads the GNAC with 18 wins and a 2.36 earned run average.

A year removed from a disappointing 2016 campaign, Western Washington (30-17, 19-9 GNAC) returns to the championships as the No. 2 seed. Perhaps the hottest team in the league, the Vikings enter the tournament on an eight-game win streak and have won 13 of their last 15 games. During that run, WWU hitters have averaged .350 while the pitching staff has held opponents to a .281 batting average.

Western Washington’s success can be attributed to a combination of steady hitting and solid pitching. Junior Emily Benson leads the Vikings offensively, ranking second in the GNAC with a .445 batting average, 32nd in Division II, to go along with 12 home runs and an impressive .805 slugging percentage.  Junior Makinlee Sellevold is averaging .413.

Dual threat sophomore Shearyna Labasan is hitting .361 while also amassing 12 wins in the pitching circle with a 3.32 earned run average. Freshman Anna Kasner also has 12 wins and the second best ERA in the GNAC at 2.68. She has also struck out 153 batters while holding opponents to a .220 batting average. Kasner also adds a measure of power at the plate with a .365 batting average and 27 RBIs.

Saint Martin’s (25-17, 17-11 GNAC) is in the tournament for the fifth consecutive year. The Saints played half of their conference games over the final 15 days of the regular season and secured the No. 3 seed by taking three of four games in doubleheaders over both Central Washington and Western Oregon in the final week.

The Saints’ strength is in its hitting. Saint Martin’s is second in the GNAC with a team .332 batting average and is among the top-30 in Division II with its average of 6.45 runs per game. Senior Mary Dettling leads eight SMU players batting over .300 with a .417 average. She is also among the league leaders with 40 RBIs and a .647 slugging percentage.

Three other SMU players are hitting over .350: sophomore Lauren Diuco (.368), junior Lindsay Miller (.367) and senior Alyssa Slate (.365).

Junior Kim Nelson has provided a steady arm in the pitching circle while also being a threat at the plate. She leads the Saints with 12 wins and a 3.40 earned run average while also hitting .336 in 38 games.

Western Oregon (27-22, 14-14 GNAC) waited until the last day to secure its fifth GNAC Championships berth, closing the regular season with a doubleheader sweep over Central Washington. The Wolves also played the majority of their GNAC schedule in April, including 14 games over the final two weeks, and posted 27 wins in the regular season despite never playing a game on its home field in Monmouth.

The Wolves have depended on pitching much of the way, ranking second in the GNAC with a 3.43 earned run average. Senior Sammi Cadwallader’s 2.43 ERA and .231 opponent batting average is second best in the GNAC. She has won five of her last six decisions. Sophomore Haley Fabian has a 3.42 ERA and her 12 wins leads the team.

Seniors Kelsie Gardner and Destiny Kuehl have provided much of the offensive firepower for the Wolves. Gardner enters the tournament sixth in the GNAC with a .416 batting average and Kuehl is 10th with a .388 average.

• Saint Martin’s and Western Oregon are both in the GNAC Championships for the fifth consecutive year.
• The Saints are looking to advance to the championship game for the first time since the inaugural 2013 event and for the first time on their home field.
• Western Oregon advanced to the championship games in both 2014 and 2016. The Wolves lost twice in the 2016 title games to Central Washington.
• Central Washington enters the tournament’s best record, 8-5. Only Montana State Billings, 3-0 in the 2015 championships, has a better record. The Wildcats won four games last year, coming back from a first game loss to win the title.

Players in the GNAC Championships will be aiming to break a number of GNAC softball career records.
Hits: Kelsie Gardner (Western Oregon) needs six more hits to break the career record of 294 set by Saint Martin’s Sam Munger between 2012 and 2015. Likewise, Kailyn Campbell (Central Washington) needs 10 hits to eclipse that same mark.
Runs: Gardner needs 15 more runs scored to eclipse the career mark of 186 set by Brandi Harrison of Humboldt State between 2002 and 2006.
RBIs: Campbell broke the GNAC career record with her 192nd and 193 RBIs against Concordia on Saturday.
Doubles: Campbell needs four more doubles to surpass the record of 65 set by Joslyn Eugenio of Saint Martin’s between 2010 and 2013. Mary Dettling (Saint Martin’s) needs seven doubles to eclipse the same mark.
Total Bases: Campbell needs six bases to eclipse the career record of 445 set by Humboldt State’s Brandi Harrison between 2002 and 2006.
Saves: Should Kiana Wood (Central Washington) earn a save in the tournament, it will tie the career mark of nine set by Simon Fraser’s Tori Belton this season.