The bigger the game, the better Carley Nance seems to perform.
So maybe it’s no surprise that the Seattle University senior became the first softball player to be named Western Athletic Conference tournament MVP two times.
Nance played a big part in Seattle U winning the 2019 WAC tournament, which earned the Redhawks their first berth in the NCAA tournament.
The Redhawks are back in the NCAA tournament after again winning the WAC tournament, with Nance the winning pitcher in all three of Seattle U’s wins, and hitting three homers, one more than she had in the entire season beforehand.
Seattle U (29-19), which has won 10 of its past 11 games, will look to continue its momentum this weekend in the four-team regional that Washington is hosting.
The Redhawks open play against Michigan at 5 p.m. Friday. Washington and Portland State play at 7:30.
The Redhawks know they can count on Nance. She pitched Tahoma High School in Maple Valley to a state championship in 2015. That tournament success followed her to Seattle U.
“I love pressure situations,” said Nance, who said hitting a homer is more exciting to her than a big strikeout on the mound.
Nance has been battling a lower-back injury for more than a year and her hitting had suffered. She entered the WAC tournament with a batting average of .200.
No matter, she drove in the winning run in a 5-4 win with a homer against Grand Canyon while earning the victory pitching in relief. She hit two homers and pitched a complete game in a 5-1 win over Utah State to get the Redhawks to the WAC title game.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Nance said of the sudden hitting surge. “I think subconsciously I was tired of not hitting great. … I am pretty proud of myself for being able to work through (the slump and the injury) when it mattered.”
Coach Geoff Hirai wasn’t that surprised.
“She’s a big-time player,” said Hirai, who told Nance that he needed her to be peaking at the end of the year.
“She can take over a game, both with her bat and in the circle,” Hirai said.
Seattle U was also in the Washington regional in 2019, with a win over Fordham sandwiched by losses to Mississippi State that ended the Redhawks’ season.
“Definitely it will be more comfortable and not being as starstruck being on that huge stage,” Nance said.
Seattle U has three pitchers who it relies on: Nance (10-5, 2.76 ERA), sophomore Stefanie Madrigal (10-5, 2.95) and senior Shi Smith (9-8, 3.17). Hirai expects to use all three on the mound this weekend.
He is waiting to finish scouting Michigan and talking with his staff to decide who will start Friday. What he does know is that his team won’t be intimidated having played nine games against Pac-12 teams (going 1-8).
“That’s why we play a tough schedule in the preseason,” Hirai said. “We try to play the toughest teams early so we know what we are going up against.”
Nance said her team “has been so happy to play this year” after last season was cut short. The Redhawks don’t want this season to end quite yet.
“We’re ready to go,” said Nance, who plans to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility and return next season to Seattle U. “We’re coached in a way that makes us feel we can beat anybody. We have nothing to lose in games like this, and we play that way. … I think exciting things can happen.”