Rick Noren says Kim Nelson is “a work in progress.”
The Saint Martin’s University softball coach loved the latest chapter as the sophomore right-hander shut out top-seeded Central Washington, 2-0, in the first round of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships at the Saints’ field on Thursday afternoon.
Nelson (13-9) held the Wildcats to three hits, allowing only two runners to reach second base. She walked no one, though she hit a batter.
“For Kim to throw that kind of game is great,” Noren said. “She really worked hard and focused on every pitch.”
Nelson’s “progess” has come, Noren said, from trusting her fastball and throwing with more velocity.
“She came here with the idea she was an offspeed specialist, but she’s finding out she can throw hard and get batters out if she hits her spots,” he said.
Only once did Central have two runners on base at the same time, when Andrea Hamada singled to start the bottom of the third — Saint Martin’s batted first as the lower seed — and moved to second on a sacrifice. Celine Fowler then beat out an infield single.
Alexa Olague smoked a line drive at the shoetops of Saints shortstop Alyssa Slate, who caught the ball, dropped it, but calmly picked it up and forced Fowler at second to end the threat.
“The way my teammates played defense behind me was key,” said Nelson.
The game reached the top of the fifth scoreless before SMU struck. Catcher Jackie Schmaeling drove in Lauren Diuco with a two-out double. Another two-out, run-scoring hit by Schmaeling, a single driving in Slate from third, gave the Saints an insurance run in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Nelson survived a pair of dicey moments to finish off her 12th complete game, and third shutout, of the season.
In the sixth, the Wildcats’ Kailyn Campbell led off with a line-drive single to center and moved to second when Olague sacrificed. That brought Central slugger Austin Wilkerson — hitting a league-leading .458 on the year with eight home runs — to the plate.
“My approach was to bust her in on the hands, but also keep her off balance with my changeup,” Nelson said. “We wanted to get her out with a popup or a ground ball.”
Wilkerson fell into a 1-2 hole, then fouled off five pitches before Nelson won the battle, retiring her on a ground ball to short.
In the seventh, Central got the leadoff runner on again when Taylor Ferleman reached on an error. Two outs later, Laura Steiner pinch hit, driving the ball high and deep to left, where Lindsey Miller caught it on the warning track to end the game.
The victory sends Saint Martin’s to the winners’ bracket of the double-elimination tournament, where it will meet Western Oregon at 10 a.m. Friday — if predicted rains do not delay the action.
After her team left nine runners on base and saw two more erased on line-drive double plays, Nelson looks for SMU to be more aggressive against the free-swinging Wolves, who beat Concordia, 3-1, on Thursday to advance.
“We’ve been preaching it all year,” she said. “Hitting and running the bases. Now it’s time to put it into practice.”
Western Oregon 3, Concordia 1: Ally Boytz allowed one run while pitching a complete game and catcher Mercedes Green hit a solo home run to help lead the No. 2 Wolves past the No. 3 Cavaliers.
Boytz (12-7), a senior, yielded four hits and three walks in her 18th complete game of the season.
Green hit her sixth home run of the season in the fourth inning to extend Western Oregon’s lead to 2-0.
Saint Martin’s 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 – 2 11 1
C. Washington 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 0 3 0
WP – Kim Nelson (CG, 4H). LP – Kiana Wood. SM – Lindsey Miller 3-4, Jackie Schmaeling 2-3 (2B, 2RBI). CW – Andrea Hamada 1-2 (1B, BB).