LACEY — Joslyn Eugenio found a way to outdo herself.
The Saint Martin’s University senior set the tone in the opening game of the Saints’ doubleheader against visiting Central Washington University by belting a two-run home run in the first inning, helping SMU claim its first regular-season Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship with a 7-5 victory over the Wildcats on Sunday.
Eugenio then put an exclamation point on her stellar season with a walk-off three-run blast in the fifth inning of game two to power the Saints to a 12-4 win in their regular-season finale.
“That first game was for the title,” coach Rick Noren said. “The second one was for the seniors. I don’t think I’ve ever had a regular season end like this.”
The truth is Saint Martin’s, which started its softball program in 1992, has never had a season like this.
“It sure is different from when I first got here,” said Eugenio, who went 2-for-4 with 3 RBI in the first game and 3-for-4 with 3 RBI in the second. “We’ve worked extremely hard at building that family atmosphere here, improving as a team and changing this program. It’s just an unbelievable way to end the regular season.”
The Saints (36-13 overall, 18-6 GNAC) will take the No. 1 seed into the first GNAC tournament, which will be held in Billings, Mont. Saint Martin’s will play No. 4-seed Central Washington (19-18, 13-11) in the opening round on Thursday.
The winner of the double-elimination tournament will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Eugenio’s first home run helped the Saints grab a 3-0 lead in the first game.
Saint Martin’s increased the advantage to 7-2 in the sixth on a two-run double from Sam Munger and an RBI single from Eugenio.
Munger went 3-for-4 with three RBI and also picked up the win as she improved to 20-6, becoming the first SMU pitcher to reach 20 wins in a season.
In the second game, the Saints trailed 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth before scoring nine runs.
Taviah Jenkins smacked a two-run home run before Eugenio finished the game with her three-run shot.
“I actually thought it was going to be a pop-up,” Eugenio said. “We all started this season with high hopes and thoughts about winning a title. Then we started to string some wins together and suddenly everyone started believing we could achieve this.”
Munger finished with a conference-best .416 batting average, while Eugenio was second (.406). Junior Lacey McGladrey, who went 2-for-3 in the first game and in the second, was third in the conference (.394).
“Joslyn, Sam and Lacey have been consistent all season for us offensively,” said Noren, who was 9-28 in his first season with the Saints two years ago. “It was a struggle that first year. When we got here, we had to change the entire culture of the program. This team needed to learn how to win.”
Evidence of the team’s learning progress will be seen next year along the outfield fence as the team will display its first regular-season GNAC championship banner.
“I’m coming back next year just to see what that banner looks like out there,” Eugenio said.