Bearcats break four offensive records en route to 17-14 season

After relying heavily on its pitching to win games the past two seasons, the Willamette University softball team discovered a new way to win in 2002: with the bat.

The Bearcats broke four offensive team records for a single season this past spring, and in doing so carved out a 17-14 record and a fourth-place finish in the Northwest Conference at 11-9. The overall record was a six-game improvement from the 2001 season.

“I was very pleased with how our team came together this year,” said fourth-year head coach Damian Williams. “We had great leadership and our focus was back.”

The Bearcats had great focus in a 2000 season (25-10), but that focus was lost last year in a 16-19 campaign.
Williams figured heading into the season his 2002 team would hit for power and average, but he got even more than he could have hoped. His team set school records for batting average (.336), home runs (6), slugging percentage (.431) and on-base percentage (.394). The team also tied the school record for doubles in a season with 42.

The Bearcats were led by first-team all-conference and third-team all-region shortstop Marcie Hagen. The sophomore led WU in eight offensive categories, including batting (.419), doubles (11) and RBI (23). She also tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 14 in 15 attempts. Her batting average ranked her third in the NWC.

Part of the reason for Hagen’s success offensively was due to the added protection in the lineup from catcher Darcy Hertel. Hertel, who played at WU in 2000 before attending a community college in 2001, returned to the Bearcats and hit .358 with 12 extra-base hits.

Hertel was named to the NWC’s honorable mention list along with freshman outfielder Anna Byers and utility players Kate Cashill and Ashley Keaton. Byers, the NWC Hitter of the Week on April 21, finished the year batting .386 in 27 games with two triples and 13 stolen bases. Cashill, the team’s DH and only senior, hit .348 in 27 games. Keaton, a freshman, hit .316 while playing in all 31 games and set a single-season home run record with 3.

The Bearcats also got a strong performance from center fielder Jenni Bradley, who was named second-team all-region despite not winning all-conference honors. Bradley hit .368 on the year, swiped 14 bases and did not make an error in the field. Hagen, Hertel, Cashill and second baseman Sherri Mabie (.366) were each named to the all-region third-team unit.

Willamette’s team batting average ranked behind only Pacific Lutheran in the NWC. The Lutes were ranked No. 1 in the nation most of the season and finished fourth at the NCAA Division III national tournament.

The Bearcats also led the NWC in stolen bases for the third straight season, swiping 83 bases in 100 attempts.
However, what was a Bearcat strength in the past — pitching — was a relative shortcoming in 2002 due to a lack of depth. Junior left-hander Hayley Boston proved to be the Bearcats’ only reliable presence on the mound. She finished the year ranked third in the NWC in victories (13-9) and was ninth in ERA (2.69).

The Bearcats showed promise for next year by winning 10 of their final 14 games.