LACEY — In the opening minutes of its Great Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball game against Seattle Pacific, Saint Martin’s sophomore guard Angela Gelhar and the Saints could already sense a victory.
A quick seven-point lead in the first three minutes had the Saints feeling the confidence of earning their first conference win.
“We were just feeling it,” Gelhar said. “We were all so pumped up. We knew we had it.”
The momentum of a 9-0 run to end the first half carried over as the Saints built their first double-digit lead minutes into the second half. And Saint Martin’s held on to upset co-GNAC leader Seattle Pacific, 70-66, Saturday night at Marcus Pavilion.
It was part of a Saint Martin’s sweep, with the SMU men defeating Western Oregon, 71-59, in the nightcap.
The Saint Martin’s women (8-6 overall, 1-3 GNAC) had a season-high in points (70), and in spite of giving up 66 points to the league’s second-highest scoring team, they forced 23 turnovers and racked up 15 steals against Seattle Pacific (9-3, 3-1).
Much of that defensive credit goes to the newly installed matchup zone.
“We have so much fun on defense,” Gelhar said. “It always gets us fired up, and we feel like we’re playing so much together as a team.”
The Saints’ largest second-half lead was 11 at 47-36 with 11 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the game after a Gelhar 3-pointer. She finished with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including 2-of-3 accuracy from 3-point range. Junior forward Chelsea Haskey had a team-high 18 points and eight rebounds.
Seattle Pacific’s Aubree Callen led all scorers with 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
The Saints shot 45.1 percent (23 of 51) for the game and their pressure defense created turnovers into fastbreak buckets.
Point guard Jori Skorpik’s steal and lay-in ended up as a three-point play that gave the Saints a 32-26 lead at the break.
Skorpik and Jordyn Richardson finished with nine points apiece.
It’s been an up-and-down season so far for the young Saints, who won for the third time in four games. Their next three games — Central Washington, Northwest Nazarene and Western Oregon — are on the road.
“This was a really important game for us,” Saints coach Tim Healy said. “They continue to work hard and to finally get the rewards for the hard work is really nice. … I’m hoping we can build on this.”
SAINT MARTIN’S MEN 71, WESTERN OREGON 59:
Thanks in part to lights-out first-half shooting of 57 percent, the Saints earned their first win in GNAC play, handing the Wolves their second loss in eight games. It was the Saints’ first game since mid-December.
“We couldn’t have played much better than that,” said senior point guard Brady Bomber, who finished with 11 points and five assists. “This was huge. Going 0-3 up to Alaska (SMU’s destination next weekend) would not have been ideal.”
Bomber, who ranks 12th among NCAA Division II players in assists-to-turnover ratio, was one of four Saints scoring in double figures. Roger O’Neill led all scorers with 24 points, 17 of which came in the first half. Eric Taylor came off the bench to score 12 points and Evan Coulter had 10 points.
Saint Martin’s (5-6, 1-2) grabbed its first double-digit lead at 22-11 with 6:08 remaining in the first half on their way to their largest lead of the game at 48-22 minutes into the second half following a lay-in by Coulter.
Western Oregon got as close as nine when Devon Alexander hit two of his team-high 19 points with 2:09 remaining that cut the Saints’ lead to 61-52.
But the Saints held on.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports