BELLINGHAM, Wash. — With a berth in the NCAA Division II West Regional within its grasp, the Western Washington University softball team begins play in the second annual Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament on Thursday (4:30 p.m.) against arch-rival Central Washington University at the Columbia Playfields in Richland.
The Vikings, 30-12, earned the No.2 seed after placing second in the GNAC standings at 17-7, one game out of first. Central, 27-16 overall and third in the conference at 16-8, is the No.3 seed.
GNAC regular-season champion Western Oregon (30-20, 18-6), the No.1 seed, meets defending champion and No.4 seed Saint Martin’s (26-20, 15-9) at 7 p.m.
The tournament continues Friday with games at 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. The two survivors then advance to the championship game Saturday at noon. A second game, if necessary, will follow the noon contest.
The winner of the double-elimination tourney earns an automatic berth to regionals.
WWU has won three of four games with Western Oregon this season, while splitting four games each with Central and Saint Martin’s.
The Vikings, who moved up one spot to No.8in this week’s West Regional poll, could also be in the eight-team regional field as one of five at-large teams joining the GNAC, Pacific West Conference and California Collegiate Athletic Association champions.
The selection show announcing the national field is Monday, May 5, at 7 a.m. PT and can be viewed on NCAA.com.
WWU, which won its only GNAC title in 2007, enters the conference tourney with seven wins in its last eight games and 19 of 23.
WWU ranks seventh nationally and leads the GNAC with a .353 batting average that is on school and GNAC record pace. The Vikings, who have five of the top 10 hitters in the league, have scored double-figure runs in a school-record 10 games this year.
Earlier this week, WWU players won major GNAC honors as first baseman Alexie Levin (So., Everett) was named Player of the Year and outfielder Autumn Isaacson (Jr., Lake Stevens) was voted Newcomer of the Year.
Six Vikings received all-star honors. Levin, Isaacson, and outfielder Meghan Carrillo (Sr., Prunedale, CA) were first-team selections, all being unanimous picks. Selected to the second team were pitcher Jenna DeRosier (Sr., Kelso), shortstop Haylee Baker (Sr., Bainbridge) and outfielder Kaleigh Keating (Sr., Salinas, CA).
Levin is making a bid for the GNAC Triple Crown. She leads the GNAC in batting average at .433 and home runs with 10 and is second in runs batted in with 46, two behind the leader. The average is school-record pace and the home run and RBI totals are WWU records. Levin also is the conference leader in slugging (.761) and ranks second in on-base percentage (.483).
Isaacson is batting .395 and has stolen a GNAC-record 30 bases in 33 attempts. Her 0.71 average steals per game ranks 15th nationally. She leads the league in triples with four and has not made an error in 72 chances this season.
Carrillo is hitting .432 and leads the conference in on-base percentage at .485.
DeRosier has a 17-4 record, winning 12 straight decisions during one stretch, and a 3.05 earned run average.
Both Baker and Keating are hitting .361. Baker has eight home runs and is tied for the team lead with Isaacson in runs scored with each having a school-record 45. Baker hit home runs in a school-record four consecutive games earlier this season.
Aspen Ison (Fr., Gig Harbor/Peninsula) has a 7-3 record and Shayna Adelstein ((Fr., Tucson, AZ/Marana Mountain View) is 5-5 with a GNAC-leading three saves.
The West Regional is divided into two four-team sub-regionals with the winners advancing to a best-of-three series. The winner of that series qualifies for the eight-team national championship tournament May 22-26 at Moyer Complex in Salem, Virginia.
GNAC Championships (May 1-3 at Columbia Playfields, Richland, Wash.)
Thursday – #2 Western Washington vs. #3 Central Washington , 4:30 p.m.; #1 Western Oregon vs. #4 Saint Martin’s, 7 p.m.
Friday – Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 2 p.m.; Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 4:30 p.m.; Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 7 p.m.
Saturday – Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, noon; Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6, 2:30 p.m. (if necessary).
Apr. 30 NCAA II West Region rating: 1. Cal State Monterey Bay, 2. Dixie State, 3. Cal Baptist, 4. Humboldt State, 5. UC San Diego, 6. Sonoma State, 7. Central Washington, 8. Western Washington, 9. Cal State San Bernardino, 10. Hawaii Hilo.
– WWU –