By Ed Strong
Seattle University Softball has a new single-season home run queen by a wide margin.
There’s 13 more games to go in the regular season.
Sophomore first baseman Madison Cathcart is the driving force behind the best DI season ever for the Redhawks (24-16, 2-1 WAC). She’s tied for the national lead with 17 homers and tied for third with 49 RBI, both of which have already put her name in the SU record book. Barring a dramatic late season drop-off, she’s likely to set program records in a massive number of offensive categories, starting with all 3 parts of her .442/.583/1.007 slash line.
In her freshman year with the Redhawks, Cathcart was a productive hitter. She found an immediate home at the cleanup spot and started all 52 games, hitting .311 with 5 homers and driving in 40 runs, a new record at the time that has since been decimated this year. But the power numbers in particular have jumped dramatically in 2018: her slugging percentage has more than doubled, from .484 to over 1.000. That’s utterly absurd.
Before asking if Cathcart has made a mechanical change to her swing to generate the power surge, head coach Geoff Hirai is already vigorously shaking his head no. She’s seeing a lot more pitches outside of the zone now that teams are learning more about the damage that she can do, but plate discipline has never really been a problem, either: she has a career walk-to-strikeout ratio above 2-to -1.
Hirai credits most of her strides to improving the mental side of her game; the psychology of hitting.
“Just going into the batter’s box, knowing what the pitcher is doing to try to get her out,” he said. He says her plan of attack is more defined, and she’s hunting the pitch she wants instead of simply reacting to what the pitcher throws.
Cathcart wasn’t an extremely highly touted prospect, but she wasn’t anything close to an unknown, either. She was first team all-league in all four seasons at R.A. Long HS (Longview, WA), including an MVP award, and played with the prestigious Northwest Bullets travel team late in her high school years.
So how did a player of her caliber end up at a program without a winning season since moving up to Division I?
Hirai had known Cathcart from recruiting her during his final year as an assistant at Oregon State in 2015, when she was a junior. In a sport where all the focus right now is on early recruiting, Cathcart’s case was as far away from that as possible. She had difficulties getting her transcripts submitted from her high school to the NCAA, and some coaches wondered if she would be eligible her freshman year.
With all the questions surrounding her situation, some coaches found other options to fill their scholarship spots before Cathcart could clear out her paperwork issues, including the Beavers staff Hirai had formerly worked with. But Hirai made a strong late push to bring her to Seattle, taking an educated gamble that she would indeed be an NCAA qualifier. She didn’t finalize her enrollment at Seattle U until early September 2016 – less than 2 weeks from the start of fall quarter.
“Because it was so late, my options were limited,” Cathcart says. “But I’m really happy that everything worked out here. The (smaller) class sizes, our team, Coach H, my classes – everything is fitting into place.”
With a big showdown against cross-town rival and No. 1 Washington looming, Cathart is asked if there’s a specific opponent that she gets most excited to play against: maybe it’s the Huskies, maybe it’s perennial WAC favorite New Mexico State. Cathcart won’t take the bait: she sticks to her “every play, every day” mentality.
“I always have pre-first pitch jitters, I’m always excited,” she says. “Every time I put my cleats on it’s the same feeling, whether I’m playing UW, a different non-conference opponent, or one of the other WAC teams.”