Central Washington Softball Wins Conference Title - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Central Washington Softball Wins Conference Title

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ELLENSBURG (May 7) -- Senior Keilani Cruz (Tacoma, Wash./Curtis HS) hit a go-ahead three-run home run in the final home at-bat of her Central Washington University career on Saturday, helping the Wildcat softball team earn a split of its doubleheader with visiting Western Washington University. Central won game two, 8-6, after losing the opener, 8-4.

Central Washington finished the regular season with a 33-14 overall record but won its second consecutive Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship with a 27-8 league mark, three games ahead of Western Washington (36-14, 24-11 GNAC). The Wildcats receive the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Division II playoffs, while Western Washington is expected to receive an at-large berth. The tournament field, including sites and game times, will be announced Monday morning (May 9) by the NCAA.

Cruz's home run in the bottom of the sixth inning of game two snapped a 5-5 tie in a game where the two teams nearly matched each other blow for blow. The Wildcats fell behind 2-0 after the first before tying the game with two in the second, then each team scored once in the third inning before Western Washington went ahead 4-3 in the fourth. Central took the lead with two runs in the bottom of the fifth, only to see the Vikings tie it again in the top of the sixth. Then, with two out and a pair of runners in scoring position, Cruz laced the first pitch she saw from WWU ace Erika Quint over the fence in right field for the three-run lead.

Western Washington attempted a rally in the top of the seventh, loading the bases with nobody out, but a fielder's choice cut down one run at the plate but Melissa Becker reached on a misplayed double-play ball to allow a run to score. However, freshman Maria Gau (Woodinville, Wash.) induced back-to-back groundball fielder's choices to second base to escape with the two-run victory.

CWU senior Kelsey Haupert (Olympia, Wash./Black Hills HS) had a solo home run in the fifth inning for the Wildcats, who later took a 5-4 lead on a wild pitch.

Central won the nightcap despite just five hits against two Western Washington pitchers. The Wildcats capitalized on four Viking errors and six walks from starting pitcher Devyn Baker (1-6). Cruz finished the game 2 for 4 with three runs scored and three RBI.

Western was led in game two by Jackie Rothenberger, who was 3 for 4, and Krista Bickar, who was 2 for 2 with two walks and a home run.

In the opening game, the Wildcats squandered an early 3-0 first-inning lead, surrendering eight consecutive runs to the Vikings between the second and sixth innings.

Haupert, whose game-two home run was her 20th of the season, had a two-run home run in the first inning of game one, which came after a RBI single from senior Samantha Petrich (Chehalis, Wash./W.F. West HS). Western Washington countered with two runs in the second inning on a home run by Caitlin Dotlich, and the Vikings took the lead in the fourth on another two-run blast by Bickar. WWU finished with five runs in the fourth, of which only one was earned, as the Wildcats committed two errors in the inning.

Each team scored once in the sixth, with Western's run aided by another CWU defensive error. Central's run scored on a RBI single inside the first-base bag by sophomore Carrina Wagner (Tacoma, Wash./Spanaway Lake HS), who drove home junior Liz Jusko (Snohomish, Wash.).

Central and Western each finished with seven hits against their opposing ace pitcher, with Quint (28-5) earning the win for the Vikings and Wildcat senior Lauren Hadenfeld (Vancouver, Wash./Evergreen HS) taking the loss to fall to 23-9 on the season. Of the eight runs scored against Hadenfeld, just three were earned. She struck out five to go over the 200-strikeout mark for the second consecutive season.

Offensive leaders in the opener were Petrich and Haupert for the Wildcats, as they were both 2 for 3 with a walk. Bickar and Dotlich were both 2 for 3 for Western, while Michelle Wrigley drove in three runs for the Vikings.

Central Washington, which secured its second straight appearance in the NCAA Division II postseason, enters the playoffs with its second-highest win total in school history. The Wildcats will take a .326 team batting average and a school- and conference-record 70 home runs into the playoffs.