For the Western women’s softball team, the 2015 season was one of the best in the last few years. But after a crushing defeat to Montana State University Billings in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship, junior first baseman Jordan Walley is already dreaming of next season and another shot at the title.
The Vikings started the season strong at the Desert Stinger Tournament in Las Vegas that started Feb. 13. Western defeated Dixie State in the tournament, one of the top teams in Division II.
“That was a huge win for us and kind of our momentum into GNAC,” Walley said.
After the Desert Stinger, the team had two weeks to prepare for regular season GNAC games. After splitting a four game series with MSUB, the squad hit their stride, dominating series with Central Washington and Northwest Nazarene before heading to California in April for the Tournament of Champions, hosted by Cal State Stanislaus.
Western reached the championship game of that tournament, but fell to Humboldt State. Second place was Western’s best ever finish at the Tournament of Champions
“I think our biggest gut check point was when we got back from California and the whole GNAC was locked in within one game,” Walley said. “It was like, OK, we’ve got to take care of business.”
And they did just that. Stellar pitching from freshman Makinlee Sellevold and solid offensive efforts from junior Alexie Levin and senior Alicia Fine sent the Vikings on a run. They took four out of the next six games before rolling into a six game winning streak that included two victories over softball powerhouse St. Martin’s.
“Picking up two games against them was huge. It gave us big momentum going into the GNAC tournament,” Walley said.
That momentum hit a brick wall in the first game of the GNAC tournament. A defensive collapse that saw a season high five errors, as well as uncharacteristically quiet bats, led to a 6-1 loss to MSUB. But a double elimination tournament means there’s always a chance for redemption.
“The second day, it was like, ‘We’re not going to let anybody beat us but ourselves,’” Walley said. Western responded to the day one defeat with a strong comeback after an early three-run deficit to knock defending champion Western Oregon University out of the tournament.
“We played together, we played as a team, we played for each other. It wasn’t about how you’re doing, it was about how the team was doing,” Walley said.
That set up the final showdown of the season between Western and St. Martin’s, a sudden death match up sending the loser home and the winner into a final two games against MSUB.
“I just remember thinking to myself, I’m not going to lose to St. Martin’s again this season. I want to beat them,’”
Walley said St. Martin’s scored first on a wild pitch by Sellevold in the first inning.
“I remember them getting the first run, it was like, ‘no, you’re not winning this game.’”
Walley stepped up to the plate in the second inning, stared down St. Martin’s pitcher Kim Nelson, and drove the ball over the centerfield wall to tie the game. Sellevold would go on to throw a complete game without giving up another run, and junior Taylor Clark would put Western ahead to stay in the sixth with a two-run home run.
The final score was 6-1.
In the tournament final, MSUB took an early 2-1 lead, but Western responded. Walley’s three-run home run in the third inning put Western up 5-2, but the offense petered out and errors led to four unearned runs charged against Sellevold, and a final score of 9-5.
“We just ran out of gas,” Walley said.
The loss was especially painful for Allie Crowe, Alicia Fine, and Autumn Isaacson, the team’s three graduating seniors. Of the three, only Crowe had played at Western all four years.
Looking toward next season, however, the Vikings are losing a comparatively small part of their starting line up. St. Martin’s is losing dominant starting pitcher Sam Munger as well as two other middle of the order hitters. MSUB is graduating seven seniors. Add in Sellevold’s recognition as the GNAC freshman of the year, and the future looks bright for Western softball.
“As far as the GNAC goes, there’s going to be a new leader on the top rung, and based on talent, it should be us,” Walley said.