LACEY -- Saint Martins Universitys softball players sat and waited anxiously Monday morning inside the Trautman Student Union building for the name Saint Martins 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 programs 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 months 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 programs 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 were just going to go out there and do what we do, and do our best at it, sophomore pitcher/shortstop Sam Munger said.
Saint Martins 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. Its a lot easier, so we can actually do planning with our finals (exams).
Mungers play at the GNAC tournament earned her the tournaments Most Outstanding Player after a 10-for-16 performance at the plate and two wins in the pitchers 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 GNACs pitcher of the year, puts Munger in an elite class, excelling in all three phases as well as she has.
I dont think theres another pitcher in the conference, maybe the country, that is that kind of player where they pitch, and then the next inning, theyre making diving plays at shortstop, and then, hitting a leadoff double, Noren said. You just dont see that.
For Noren, and his wife and assistant coach, Leanne, this is the couples 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.
Its the fourth time at Saint Martins team has qualified for NCAA postseason play. The softball team joins womens basketball (2004-05 and 07-08) and mens golf (12).
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick