BY Jaryd Cline
After losing five games in a row and slipping to fourth place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings, the Central Washington softball team nearly ran the table in the annual Tournament of Champions in California.
The Wildcats won their first three games in the tournament before falling to Humboldt State University during pool play and Cal State Monterey Bay during bracket play. Cal State Monterey Bay went on to win the bracket and finished as the only undefeated team in the 24-team tournament.
Central improved to 20-13 on the season and remains at 8-6 in the GNAC standings following the tournament.
The tournament started last Friday with the Wildcats beating Azusa Pacific 3-0 on a strong pitching performance from freshman pitcher Kiana Wood. Wood picked up her seventh win of the season as she shut out Azusa Pacific. Senior first baseman Maikala Galusha drove in all three Wildcat runs going 2-for-2 with a home run.
In the second game of the Wildcats Friday triple-header, senior pitcher Taryn Smith gave up just one run over seven innings as the Wildcats beat California State University and Dominguez Hills 10-1. Freshman designated hitter Kailyn Campbell went 3-for-4 with one RBI and junior left fielder Katie Focher went 3-for-4 with three RBIs in the win.
Central finished off its triple-header with an exciting 7-4 win over Chico State in which the Wildcats had to rally in the seventh inning to comeback. The Wildcats trailed 4-3 heading into the top of the seventh inning until sophomore catcher Austin Wilkerson hit her second home run of the day, giving Central a 5-4 lead. Senior second baseman Jill McDaniels added two more runs to the Central lead with a two-run homerun.
Senior pitcher Maria Gau finished off Chico State in the bottom of the seventh, improving her record to 9-5 on the season.
On day two of the tournament the Wildcats lost their first game in pool play to No. 8 nationally ranked Humboldt State University 5-1. Central’s lone run came off a solo home run from McDaniels.
The Wildcats finished off pool play by beating Cal State University Stanislaus 4-1 to improve their tournament record to 4-1. The four Central runs were more than enough support for Gau, who surrendered just four hits while striking out six hitters.
The 4-1 record in pool play put the Wildcats into the Silver Bracket. Central was just one win shy of competing in the Championship Bracket.
Central met up with Cal State Monterey Bay in the first game of bracket play and fell 2-0, which eliminated them from bracket play.
Wilkerson was the only Wildcat named to the All-Tournament team. She hit 8-for-15 with two home runs and six RBIs over the course of the tournament.
The Wildcats, who sit at fourth place in the GNAC standings, still have 10 conference games left to play.
Central comes home for a four-game home stand this weekend after a two-game series against Simon Fraser. The Wildcats face Western Oregon on Saturday and Saint Martin’s on Sunday.
Western Oregon sits atop the GNAC standings with a 13-1 conference record, with its only loss coming from a 3-2 defeat against Central back in March.
The Wildcats can make up some ground in the GNAC standings with some wins this weekend. Saint Martin’s, the Wildcats’ opponent on Sunday, sits two games in front of Central in second place in the GNAC standings.
The Wildcats won’t have to worry about offense in their upcoming games as long as Wilkerson keeps swinging the bat well. Wilkerson leads the team, hitting .358 this year. She also has eight hits and two home runs in her last four games.
McDaniels has also been swinging the bat well this season, leading the team with seven home runs and 27 RBIs.
With plenty of games left in the season to make a run and climb higher in the GNAC standings, the Wildcats will be looking to do just that.