LACEY — The moment Taviah Jenkins made contact it looked like the Western Oregon defense was going to be in trouble.
The high pop-up was headed for shallow right field, appearing to be beyond the reach of any fielder. Had it dropped, Saint Martin’s would have had the tying and winning runs on second and first base, respectively.
Kelsie Gardner’s defensive gem prevented that. The Western Oregon freshman darted from second to track down the fly ball, capping the play with an over-the-shoulder catch.
Gardner’s play combined with a pair of costly Saints errors helped the visiting Wolves complete a sweep of Saint Martin’s in a Great Northwest Athletic Conference softball doubleheader on Saturday.
Western Oregon (28-18 overall, 16-4 GNAC) shut out the Saints (23-19, 12-8) in the opener, 2-0, before taking the second 4-3.
A pair of wins for Saint Martin’s would have created a four-way tie atop the GNAC standings between the Saints, Western Oregon, Central Washington and Western Washington. Instead, Western Oregon holds a two-game lead with not much more than a week left in the season.
After posting just four hits in the first game, SMU led 3-1 after the fourth inning in the second contest but were unable to hold the lead as the Wolves scored twice in the fifth and once in the seventh to finish the rally.
With the score tied at 3 in the top of the seventh, Lacey McGladrey’s fielding error at second base placed Western Oregon runners on first and third. SMU shortstop Dani Wall followed with a throwing error that allowed what would be the winning run to score.
“That’s the way it’s been all season for us,” SMU coach Rick Noren said. “We’ve had players in the right position, but we don’t make the play.”
Sam Munger led off the Saints’ half of the seventh with a single but didn’t advance past first. Western Oregon junior pitcher Kelli Demianew (13-8), aided by Gardner’s stellar play, retired the next three batters to pick up the victory.
Western Oregon catcher Bridjet Box, out of South Kitsap High School, hit a solo home run – her fourth of the season – to even the score at 1 in the second inning. But SMU responded by pushing two more runners across – with first baseman Kana’i Smith driving in a run in the second and Allie Lovitt scoring on a throwing error in the fourth to increase the advantage to 3-1.
A run-scoring double in the fifth from Wolves center fielder Amanda Evola was followed by Box’s second RBI to make it a 3-3 game.
Western Oregon, which improved to 4-0 this season against the Saints, entered the day having lost four of its past five games.
A 2-0 shutout in the opener put an end to the losing skid as the Wolves scored twice in the third for the only runs.
Saint Martin’s Munger (17-13) took the loss, pitching a complete game in which she gave up seven hits and struck out two.
The Saints lone hits were singles from Jackie Schmaeling, Megan Miller, Jenkins and Wall.
“We just weren’t hitting the ball,” Noren said. “Some people call it a slump, but whatever you call it we just have to fight through and start getting some hits.”
Evola, the only player with two hits in the game, and third baseman Jourdan Williams both drove in runs for Western Oregon.
Despite the losses, SMU secured its place in the GNAC tournament, which begins May 1 in Richland.
“The team has to decide if they want to be competitors and take advantage of what’s in front of them,” said Noren, who guided the Saints to the GNAC title and their first NCAA Division II tournament berth in school history last season.
SMU concludes its regular season at home with doubleheaders against Simon Fraser on April 26 and Western Washington University on April 27.
Saint Martin’s 21-8, Montana State-Billings 7-6: An offensive onslaught helped the Saints sweep a GNAC doubleheader against the Yellowjackets.
Zach Raczok had eight RBIs on four hits, including a home run, in the opener as Saint Martin’s enjoyed its highest scoring game since 2010.
The Saints (13-26) had 25 hits, also getting four from Kaelen Hirashiki and three each from Spencer Dodd, Zack Larsen, Chandler Tracy and Carl Svanevik.
SMU parlayed some of that offense into a win in the second game, scoring seven runs in the second inning.
Tracy was 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBI, while Raczok drove in a pair of runs.