Isaacson's speed keys WWU's offense

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 18, 2014 

Autumn Isaacson takes speed to the base paths for the Western Washington softball team.

NICK GONZALES — Nick Gonzales

To some degree, what Autumn Isaacson has can't be taught.

It's an old albeit true adage - one passed down throughout the history of sports time and again - that speed does, in fact, kill. Just ask anyone the Western Washington University softball team has faced so far this season.

Better yet, just listen closely throughout one of the Vikings' games.

"Some games, coaches will scream out to their players, 'She's fast. Ought to be quick,'" Isaacson said in a phone interview. "It makes me feel really good. It boosts my confidence."

Her 27 stolen bases entering play Friday, April 18, is one shy of breaking the Great Northwest Athletic Conference record of 28 set by Jessi Williams (WWU) and Andrea Williams (Humboldt State University) in 2002, and like any good leadoff hitter, as she goes, so, too, do the Vikings.

WWU's 25-11 record, 12-6 in GNAC play, has it positioned for a spot in the postseason with eight games remaining, and that's thanks in large part to the production Isaacson's provided at the top of the order. Senior Kaleigh Keating, who generally bats in the No. 2 hole, needs no reminder of that.

"We don't even have to hit her over," Keating said in a phone interview. "She'll mess with the catchers and advance that way. She's just awesome."

Isaacson's .405 batting average is fifth in the conference, while her on-base percentage (.473), runs scored (37) and triples (three) all rank in the top four of their respective categories.

But her speed is what's most maddening. Shear quickness, though, can only get someone so far.

Stealing bases is an art, Isaacson said, one that takes a certain level of dedication to hone when at the Division II level.

"I really pay close attention on catchers' throw-downs before I go up to bat," Isaacson said. "I look at everyone's throws ... to help me figure out whether I have an advantage."

And take advantage she has, sometimes more than once a game. On nine different occasions this season, the junior outfielder has swiped two bases, furthering the notion that even if catchers know she's going, it's still hard to stop.

Her insurgence in the Vikings' lineup hasn't been solely due to her performance on the bases. Her plate approach is as varied and dangerous as any leadoff hitter in the conference, Keating said, providing a stable presence for WWU's middle-of-the-order hitters.

"Besides speed, she can hit right side, left side, bunt, power slap - it's amazing," Keating said. "She's almost for sure getting on first."

Isaacson's prowess at the plate translates to the Vikings as a whole, which have put together one of the best offensive seasons in the country so far.

WWU ranks seventh among all D-II programs with a .352 combined batting average, and sophomore first baseman Alexie Levin, like Isaacson, is chasing history in the process.

Levin is second on the team with a .432 batting average, and her eight home runs and 40 RBI are both nearing school records.

Keating, also, has put together a strong senior campaign, batting .342 in 35 starts. Her speed combines well with Isaacson's at the top of the order, with her 10 stolen bases second to only Isaacson on the team.

"Honestly, we just became more aggressive and we know that our team is really good," Keating said. "I think everyone is taking their cuts. ... I'm definitely more comfortable with my swing and everything, just buying into our coaches and listening to their advice, leaving it all on the field."

That's all come to a head over WWU's past 13 games, as the Vikings have scored five or more runs 10 times. Winning, like the offense, has been a benefactor of the deep lineup coach Amy Suiter has at her disposal, with WWU now riding a streak that has seen it win 14 of its last 17 games.

Reach Alex Bigelow at alex.bigelow@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.

UP NEXT

WESTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY VS. NORTHWEST NAZARENE UNIVERSITY

When: 1 and 3 p.m.

Where: At WWU's softball complex in south campus.

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