SEATTLE – Seattle University softball made history in 2019, putting together its most successful season in program history. For the first time ever, the Redhawks won the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) regular-season title, the WAC Tournament championship, and appeared in the Division I NCAA Tournament.
In his fourth year at SU, Coach Geoff Hirai guided his program to a tremendous season that saw the Redhawks set Division I program records in batting (.309) and ERA (2.35). Seattle U ranked No. 22 nationally in batting average while leading the WAC in six team statistical categories. SU was the lone team in Division I to have three pitchers with five conference wins apiece and one of just nine teams to have three pitchers with at least nine wins in 2019.
At the WAC Tournament, Seattle U pulled off its two biggest comebacks of the season before beating New Mexico State, 3-2, in the championship game. Down 4-0 against Kansas City in its first game in Phoenix, the Redhawks rallied, as Carley Nance hit a walk-off double for a 5-4 win over the Roos. The next day, SU fell behind again by a score of 4-0 and then trailed, 7-4, in the seventh inning. Madison Cathcart walked and Bailey Thompson and Kaylee Ree singled, bringing up Nance with one out and the bases loaded. She worked a nine-pitch at-bat and then lifted a flyball to right field that cleared the fence and landed as the biggest hit in program history, propelling Seattle U to the WAC Tournament final.
In the championship contest, Nance pitched a complete game, not allowing a hit until the fifth inning. Madison Cathcart hit a pair of RBI doubles to provide offense as Nance closed out SU’s first-ever WAC Tournament title. She earned WAC Tournament MVP, as Ree and Cherise Silvan were both picked to the all-tournament team.
SU claimed the three seed in the Seattle Regional of the NCAA Tournament, heading to Washington. It battled Mississippi State while dropping the opener. The next day, the Redhawks faced Fordham in an elimination game. Andie Larkins pitched an eight-inning shutout and Cathcart delivered a walk-off sacrifice fly, playing Alyson Matriotti for a 1-0 win. SU took on MSU again, with Thompson, Cathcart, and Ree each homering in a 7-3 setback to end a thrilling season.
SU dominated the WAC regular season, going 15-3 and winning all six series to go with three sweeps. The Redhawks beat New Mexico State in a three-game series at Logan Field, as Cathcart hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift SU to its first-ever series win over the Aggies.
The next weekend, SU swept Utah Valley in a three-game set, securing the 100th win of Hirai’s coaching career.
Larkins and Shianne Smith teamed up for a historic day against CSU Bakersfield on April 20. Larkins pitched a no-hitter, allowing just one baserunner over five innings in an 8-0 win. Smith followed with a 12-strikeout performance in a 1-0 victory, allowing just two hits in seven electrifying innings. She tallied eight strikeouts in the first three frames, including a stretch with seven straight Ks.
Needing a win over California Baptist to clinch the regular season crown on the last weekend of the schedule, Thompson and Breanna Timmons both hit walk-off homers to end run-rule victories at Logan Field. On senior day, Emma Mitchell hit a walk-off single in the eighth inning, scoring Baily Paul for a 4-3 win to cap the regular season. It marked Mitchell’s second straight senior day with a game-winning hit.
Seattle U excelled in non-conference as well. On Feb. 15, it tied an NCAA record with five home runs in the third inning of a 13-3 win over Georgetown in Las Vegas. Cathcart, Thompson, Grace Dudden, Mitchell, and Ally Choate each homered in the third as SU became just the ninth team in Division I history to hit five home runs in a single frame.
On Mar. 2, the Redhawks faced No. 25 Illinois in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Nance threw a complete game, allowing just one earned run, while Choate went 3-4 with a homer in a 5-2 victory. The win marked Seattle U’s first over a nationally-ranked opponent.
Nance finished her season with numerous accolades, claiming NFCA All-Region Second Team, All-WAC First Team, WAC Tournament MVP, and Seattle U Female Athlete of the Year. She was one of six players to win 17 games, hit seven home runs, and appear in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The Maple Valley, Wash., native paced the WAC in ERA (2.00) and led SU with a career-high 17 wins.
Choate set the school record for hits (75) in a season, topping the WAC in hits, batting average (.397), and on-base percentage (.452). The sophomore was an NFCA All-Region Second Team choice, an All-WAC First Team pick, and a member of the NCAA Tournament Seattle All-Regional Team.
Thompson was All-WAC First Team after leading the WAC in on-base percentage and slugging percentage in conference games. She hit a team-high 13 home runs to go with her school-record-tying 13 hit by pitches.
Cathcart followed her record-breaking 2018 with a terrific 2019 season. She led the conference in RBIs and walks on her way to All-WAC Second Team honors. The junior has 46 career doubles, good for eighth in WAC history. She has already set the program record and needs 11 two-baggers in 2020 to tie the conference mark. Cathcart also has SU career records in walks (109) and putouts (1,308).
Larkins concluded her career with a second straight All-WAC Second Team selection. She threw the fourth no-hitter in program history. She then hurled an eight-inning shutout to win the program’s first Division I NCAA Tournament game.
In her freshman season, Olivia Viggiano made an immediate impact, starting all 57 games in centerfield on her way to being chosen All-WAC Second Team. She set the single-season program record runs scored (47), leading the WAC in that category and tying for the league lead in stolen bases (20). Viggiano was picked Seattle U Female Freshman of the Year.
Ree recorded a superb senior campaign, leading the league in batting average and hits in WAC contests. She was an All-WAC Second Team choice and then took WAC All-Tournament Team recognition. In her final collegiate at-bat, Ree hit a home run to set the career program record for runs (123).
In her sophomore year, Smith broke her own school record for strikeouts per seven innings (7.34) and held foes to a .211 batting average, second-lowest in the WAC. Her opponent batting average of .210 in her first two seasons at SU is best in the conference by 25 points.
Hirai’s squad will have to replace a strong senior class, as Larkins, Mitchell, Ree, and Timmons have graduated. With eight regular starters returning in 2020, the Redhawks should be well-positioned to contend for the WAC title again.