NCAA bound: Saint Martin's softball in first NCAA Tournament appearance

May 6, 2013 

Saint Martin's players, coaches and fans react to the news of playing Grand Canyon in the West Regional during Monday's NCAA Division II Softball Tournament selection show at the Trautman Student Union Building.

LACEY -- Saint Martin’s University’s softball players sat and waited anxiously Monday morning inside the Trautman Student Union building for the name “Saint Martin’s” to flash on the projector screen during the NCAA Division II Softball Tournament selection show before they headed off to take final exams.

The wait was a mere 15 minutes, as the crowd, featuring players, coaches, fellow SMU students and University staff, erupted when the No. 22-ranked Saints (39-14) learned who, when and where they would play in the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The Saints earned a No. 5 seed in one of two West Region sub-regionals, and will travel to Arcata, Calif., home of Humboldt State University, to face No. 17-ranked Grand Canyon, the No. 4 seed, at 1:30 p.m. Friday. The Saints are part of a four-team sub-regional that also features No. 5-ranked and host Humboldt State (46-12), which the Saints defeated, 5-4, at last month’s Tournament of Champions, Grand Canyon (39-17), and UC San Diego (33-22). The winner three-day sub-regional advances to the best-of-three Super Regional tournament, similar to a Sweet 16. After winning the program’s conference regular-season title, conference tournament title, and a school-record 39 wins and counting, the Saints hope to take another positive step forward in its program history at the West Regional.

“We have a great group of girls and we’re just going to go out there and do what we do, and do our best at it,” sophomore pitcher/shortstop Sam Munger said.

Saint Martin’s was one of 22 automatic qualifiers into the NCAA tournament after winning the inaugural GNAC tournament title Saturday in Billings, Mont., which, in the players’ minds, relieved the pressures of wondering if they would receive an at-large bid had they not won the tournament.

“It was so much easier to win it,” Munger said. “It’s a lot easier, so we can actually do planning with our finals (exams).”

Munger’s play at the GNAC tournament earned her the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after a 10-for-16 performance at the plate and two wins in the pitcher’s circle to improve to 22-7. She raised her GNAC-best batting average to .434 and also has a 2.53 earned-run average, second-best in the GNAC. Head coach Rick Noren said Munger, the GNAC’s pitcher of the year, puts Munger in an elite class, excelling in all three phases as well as she has.

“I don’t think there’s another pitcher in the conference, maybe the country, that is that kind of player where they pitch, and then the next inning, they’re making diving plays at shortstop, and then, hitting a leadoff double,” Noren said. “You just don’t see that.”

For Noren, and his wife and assistant coach, Leanne, this is the couple’s ninth postseason appearance as a coaching tandem. They led Pacific Lutheran to eight national tournament appearances (three in NAIA, five in NCAA Division III), including a Division III College World Series berth in 2002.

It’s the fourth time at Saint Martin’s team has qualified for NCAA postseason play. The softball team joins women’s basketball (2004-’05 and 07-08) and men’s golf (‘12).

Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 @MegWochnick

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