Western Washington University’s softball team went into the series against the Northwest Nazarene University Nighthawks with a chance to clinch a spot in the Greater Northwest Athletic Conference Championships, but things just didn’t go their way.
Western entered the series 8-4 in conference play, putting them in first place. Northwest Nazarene was close behind in second place, with a conference record of 5-3.
In the opening game of the series on April 23, senior pitcher Anna Kasner, who entered the series with a record of 9-1, pitched a shutout through four innings with just one hit and five strikeouts.
Northwest Nazarene took the lead in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Nighthawks’ infielder Maia McNicoll homered to left field.
Later in the bottom of the sixth, Northwest Nazarene extended their lead when catcher Brittany Genuardi hit a two run home run into center field, making their lead 3-0.
The Vikings weren’t ready to quit yet, and rallied to tie the game at 3-3 in the top of the seventh through RBI doubles by freshman Macy Tarbox and junior Chantelle Shimabukuro.
The game would extend into extra innings, where in the bottom of the 10th inning, the Nighthawks scored off an error and won the game 4-3.
Game two of the series would see junior Kira Doan start as pitcher for the Vikings. Doan entered the game with a 6-5 record on the season.
The Nighthawks had their breakthrough in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Maia McNicoll hit a three RBI home run into left field.
Northwest Nazarene extended their lead to 4-0 the next inning, and pushed the game out of reach in the bottom of the sixth. Nighthawks pitcher Sidney Booth hit in two runs off a single, and then scored herself a moment later. The game ended in a 7-0 lopsided victory for the Nighthawks.
The third game of the series would once again feature Vikings star pitcher Anna Kasner, but this would merely be a cameo appearance for her. Kasner pitched just 1.2 innings and allowed six runs on five hits and three walks. The Vikings did, however, put up a fight after quickly going down 7-0 through two innings.
In the fourth inning, Vikings junior outfielder Lauren Lo hit a solo home run, her second of the season. In the fifth inning, Shimabukuro hit a double into center field and drove in another run.
Despite attempts to comeback after RBI hits from Shimabukuro and sophomore Brooke Fesenbeck, the Vikings would ultimately fall 9-5 to the Nighthawks.
In the final game of the series, freshman pitcher Kaelynn Simmons made her first start for the Vikings this season.
The Vikings started strong this time around, scoring two runs in the top of the first inning after RBIs from Fesenbeck and Lo.
The Nighthawks had a response to the early scoring, putting two runs onto the board in the bottom of the second inning.
With the game tied 2-2 in the top of the fourth inning, the game stopped a halt, after an injury to Vikings freshman Taylor Khorrami.
Both teams gathered together in a show of respect to the injured player.
“It's so much more than just playing good or winning. We were all scared and both teams came together,” senior Mackenzie Palmer said.
Once the game restarted, the Vikings were playing for more than just getting a win; they were playing for their teammate and for each other, Palmer said.
In the top of the fifth inning, junior shortstop Tatum Dow hit a solo homerun to give the Vikings a 3-2 lead, which turned out to be the game-winning play.
The Vikings went 1-3 during the series, dropping them to third in conference play.
Head Coach Sheryl Gilmore said that it was not an ideal result, but remains confident that they will be able to close out the season strong.
“I think when you go one and three in an early series in the season, it never seems like a big deal. But you look at it when it happens a little bit later in the season, and people get a little caught up in that,” Gilmore said. “I think we just got to continue to focus on what we can control and that's what we do next.”
The Vikings will play their final series of the year this weekend against Central Washington University, with a spot in the GNAC Championships on the line.
The rivalry between Western and Central promises to be a good game, or at least, junior Tatum Dow thinks so.
“It's gonna be fun,” Dow said. “I'm expecting it to be a really good game. Central's a great team.”
This series will also feature senior day, and will be an emotional time for players like Palmer, who will be playing their final games at Western.
“I'm really excited to get to take the field one last time,” Palmer said. “I think that it's a little bit emotional, and it makes me really sad, but I think it also makes me really grateful to have something that makes leaving and being a senior and graduating so hard.”
The Vikings are currently in third place in conference standings. They must finish fourth place or higher to have a spot in the GNAC Championships.
The Vikings will play against Central on May 1-2 to try and clinch their spot in the playoffs. Fans can watch the games live, streamed on Western Washington Youtube.