After qualifying for the Greater Northwest Athletic Conference championships with a win in the final game of the season over rival Central Washington, Western Washington University softball entered the tournament with a chip on their shoulder.
The Vikings had not appeared in a GNAC Championship tournament since 2017, which was the last year they won the championship as well.
The Vikings started the GNACs with a game against Saint Martin’s University on May 6.
The game appeared like it would begin in favor of the Saints, with a leadoff single from junior center fielder Emery Norwood.
Senior pitcher Anna Kasner, named the starting pitcher for the Vikings, responded by striking out the next two batters. The third out was a popout in the infield.
Kasner continued her excellent start to the game as she struck out five of the next six batters she faced, keeping the game scoreless through three innings.
The Vikings had their best chance to score so far in the game in the bottom of the third inning. Junior infielder Chantelle Shimabukuro reached base when she was hit by a pitch leading off in the inning. Senior outfielder Mackenzie Palmer followed with a single into center field, moving Shimabukuro to second.
However, the Vikings would be unable to score in the inning after a pop fly to left field and a double play ended the inning.
Western would finally get their run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Shimabukuro worked a lead-off walk and Palmer singled right after. Junior shortstop Tatum Dow hit a deep fly ball that was caught, but Shimabukuro advanced to third base.
With one out in the inning, sophomore third baseman Brooke Fesenbek layed down an RBI bunt that gave the Vikings a 1-0 lead.
Kasner finally allowed someone to reach base again for Saint Martin’s when she gave up a walk in the top of the sixth.
Kasner followed this up by striking out the next three batters to end the inning.
The Vikings held on to the 1-0 lead and advanced to the winners bracket game against Northwest Nazarene.
Kasner finished the game with seven innings pitched, one hit, onewalk and 12 strikeouts.
Senior Anna Kasner was named the starter for the game against Northwest Nazarene after her stellar performance in the first game of the tournament.
After a slow day at the office for the Western batters on day one of the tournament, they were determined to get going in game two.
The Vikings hit the ground running in the top of the first inning when Shimabukuro hit a solo home run to lead off the game.
Dow followed this up with a solo home run of her own, giving the Vikings a quick 2-0 lead after one inning.
Kasner started the game striking out five of the first six batters, almost a repeat performance from the first game.
The Vikings continued their hot start when they rallied in the top of the third inning.
The Vikings had the bases loaded with no outs after Shimabukuro, Dow and Palmer all reached base.
An error from the Northwest Nazarene pitcher allowed Shimabukuro to score, while Dow and Palmer advanced a base.
Following an out, junior Lauren Lo hit a bases clearing double that scored Dow and Palmer and the Vikings lead to 5-0.
The Vikings ended the inning with a 6-0 lead and in total control of the winners bracket.
Kasner continued to show why she is the Vikings all-time strikeout leader, striking out the side in the bottom of the third inning. Then striking out two batters in the bottom of the fourth.
The Vikings put the game out of sight in the top of the fifth, when Lo hit a three-run home run, making the lead 9-0 for the Vikings.
Kasner closed out the bottom of the fifth inning by striking out two more batters.
The only player to reach base for Northwest Nazarene was walked after being hit by a pitch in the bottom of the fifth, but Kasner kept the no-hitter to shut out the Nighthawks.
The win clinched the Vikings first trip to the GNAC Championship Game since 2017.
Lo said she “gave the credit to the team for always having her back.”
The GNAC Championship took place on May 9, as the Vikings took on Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks. Since the Vikings were undefeated in the first two games, they needed to lose twice to finish second, but only needed to win one game to become champions.
Kasner was once again named the starting pitcher for the Vikings, the first time she would start a championship game since her freshman season in 2017.
Kasner started the game strong as she struck out the first three batters of the game to sweep the first inning.
However, her dominant spell was broken in the top of the second inning when Nighthawks fresham left fielder Maia McNicoll hit a solo home run.
Kasner escaped without further damage to the scoreboard when she struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
Western turned the tide in the bottom of the fourth inning when Dow scored on a fielder's choice, tying the game at 1-1.
The Vikings would flip the game on its head in the bottom of the sixth inning after sophomore third baseman Brooke Fesenbek hit a 2-run home run deep into left field, giving the Vikings a 3-1 lead.
Heading into the top of the 7th inning, the Vikings were three outs away from becoming champions.
The first batter to the plate would hit a double into left field, starting the inning in scoring position.
Kasner, attempting to close out the game, got the next batter to fly out to second base, for out number one.
The following two batters were unable to get anything from Kasner, as she struck them out, giving the Vikings the win.
Kasner finished the tournament pitching 19 innings in three games, allowing only five hits and one run, while striking out 38 batters. She was named tournament MVP for her stellar performance.
“I’m still in shock, I'm a little overwhelmed with so many emotions,” Kasner said following the game.
Western softball Head Coach Sheryl Gilmore had nothing but praise for her star pitcher and her team’s excellent defensive performance. Kasner pitched a perfect game earlier this year.
“Our pitching and defense definitely got it done today and Anna was absolutely lights out," said Gilmore.
The Vikings will participate in the NCAA Division II West Regionals on May 19-21, with a shot of making the NCAA DII National Championship.