After losing the opening game of the tournament 12-4, the team responded by winning games two and three and advancing to the championship game where they ultimately fell 3-2 against Northwest Nazarene University.
The biggest highlight of the softball team's performance was the phenomenal hitting performance by freshman shortstop Hailey Rath. During the playoffs, she batted .727 (8-11) with two home runs and six runs batted in. She walked four times against St. Martin’s University in Western’s 15-6 victory in game three.
“I knew I needed to fill those shoes for the playoffs,” Rath said. “I guess in the playoffs I kind of turn into a different player because I want to win, and we all want to win a championship.”
Rath explained the adjustments she made to her approach following a late-season slump. In the week leading up to the playoffs, she worked with assistant coach Shearyna Labasan to prepare for how pitchers would attack her at the plate in the playoffs.
“She is a team player, super humble, she brings out the best in all of us and she’s meant a lot to this team,” said junior catcher Emily Paulson. “Knowing she’s a freshman and being in the postseason for the first time, you couldn’t tell at all, and she gave us all the confidence.”
Rath’s other teammates shared a similar sentiment on what Rath meant to the team.
“Throughout the season, she’s really grown into a great leader for our team,” said senior first baseman Brooke Fesenbek. “She’s kind of a goofball, and I think those tough moments, especially in elimination games, she really lightened the mood. I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.”
The softball team had other notable performances, including from Fesenbek herself. In her final playoff series with the team, she torched St. Martin’s pitching, batting 5-8 with a home run and five runs batted in.
“We’ve played them so many times and seen their pitchers so many times. I was bound to figure it out eventually,” Fesenbek said. “I wasn’t very successful against them in conference play, but I think something just clicked for me that day. Maybe it was me being scared of the fact it was my last game or maybe the repetition of seeing them over and over, but looking at the scouting report and charts also helped.”
Beyond the hitting aspect, the team’s pitching depth had been thinned throughout the course of the year. Once again, GNAC Pitcher of the Year Mareena Ramirez stepped up to the call of action. The senior pitcher started all four of the Vikings’ playoff games within the space of three days, ultimately giving the team a chance to get to the final championship game.
“She’s been so consistent for us and a key piece of our late-season run,” Paulson said. “I know towards the end of the year, her arm was probably getting sore, as is the case for most pitchers. But she really came through for us, pitched great when we needed her to and she was a rock.”
While Ramirez and Fesenbek are graduating, the team will be returning Paulson and Rath, along with a new class of incoming recruits, to build on this year's success.
“The moment I came to Western, I told Coach Cheryl, ‘I’ll do anything to win a championship,’” Rath said. “I believe this team can win the championship next year.”
Click here to read a recap of the softball season.
Joe Kramer (he/him) is a sports reporter for The Front. He is an aspiring sportswriter majoring in journalism. Outside of journalism, he enjoys baseball and spending time with his family, especially the dogs.