LACEY – Before heading off to take their final exams, the Saint Martin’s University’s softball players sat and waited anxiously Monday morning inside the Trautman Student Union building for their school’s name to flash on the projector screen during the NCAA Division II softball tournament selection show.
The wait was a mere 15 minutes.
The crowd, featuring players, coaches, students and university staff, erupted when the No. 22-ranked Saints (39-14) were given a fifth seed. SMU will travel to Arcata, Calif., and play fourth-seeded and 17th-ranked Grand Canyon (39-17) at 1:30 p.m. on Friday in the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament.
Other teams in the West 1 Regional tournament are fifth-ranked and host Humboldt State (46-12) — which the Saints defeated 5-4 at the Tournament of Champions in April — and UC San Diego (33-22).
The winner of the three-day tournament advances to the best-of-three Super Regional tournament, similar to a Sweet 16.
After winning a school-record 39 games, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season and conference tournament titles, the Saints hope to take another step forward.
“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 and shortstop Sam Munger said.
Saint Martin’s was one of 22 automatic qualifiers after winning the inaugural GNAC tournament Saturday in Billings, Mont.
That victory took away some of the anxiety of sweating out an at-large bid.
“It was so much easier to win it,” Munger said. “It’s a lot easier, so we can actually do planning with our finals.”
Munger (22-7) was the GNAC tournament’s most outstanding player after her 10-for-16 performance at the plate and two pitching victories. She raised her batting average to .434 — best in the conference — and also has a 2.53 ERA.
Coach Rick Noren said Munger, the GNAC’s pitcher of the year, is in an elite class.
“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.”
The softball team joins women’s basketball (2004-05 and 2007-08) and men’s golf (2012) as the only Saints teams to qualify for NCAA postseason play.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 email@example.com theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick