If the Saint Martin’s University softball team is going to repeat its history-making feat from 2013, which included its first NCAA tournament berth, Saints coach Rick Noren said he prefers the traditional “one game at a time” mentality.
And Noren knows his players have the tools to make that happen.
“I’m confident in their abilities,” Noren said. “We know they have the ability to do it, but what they need to do is prove to everybody in the conference and the region … they can do it in clutch situations.”
His Saints aren’t the top seed in this weekend’s four-team Great Northwest Athletic Conference softball tournament — as they were a year ago when they won the inaugural tournament and clinched the program’s first NCAA appearance — but only four games separated the first- through fourth-place teams in the standings.
“That’s why the tournament exists — for teams like us to get a chance,” Noren said.
On Thursday, the Saints (26-20) open the three-day, double-elimination tournament at Richland’s Columbia Playfields as the fourth seed against top-seeded and regular-season champion Western Oregon (30-20) at 7 p.m.
Also competing is Western Washington (30-12) and Central Washington (27-16).
At stake is the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA Division II West Regional tournament.
The Saints are winners of three of their last four games, and six of nine — a stretch in which senior second baseman Lacey McGladrey said they’re “starting to find the groove.”
“We have an amazing amount of talent,” said McGladrey, a four-time first-team all-GNAC selection — the fifth player in conference history to accomplish that. “Knowing we can all play defense and hit the ball and beat anyone in the conference is just the mindset we have to go in with.”
McGladrey leads the Saints in hitting (.382), hits (58) and runs scored (44).
Junior right-hander Sam Munger (19 victories) is the GNAC’s winningest pitcher on the season, and her 59 career wins rank third all time in the conference.
But Noren also regularly starts a handful of freshmen, including Mary Dettling, Jackie Schmaeling and Alyssa Slate, who have 107 starts combined between them and whom Noren is looking forward to seeing mature in the Tri-Cities.
“Hopefully,” Noren said, “they’ll become sophomores by then.”
PLAYOFFS STILL POSSIBLE FOR SMU BASEBALL TEAM
After splitting last weekend’s doubleheader with GNAC champion Western Oregon, the Saint Martin’s baseball team remains in the hunt for the playoffs for the first time as a Division II program.
The Saints (15-28 overall) are in fourth place in the GNAC, two games back in the loss column of third-place Northwest Nazarene with four games left.
Saint Martin’s will play host to second-place Central Washington (28-15) at Saints Field in doubleheaders Friday and Saturday, and must win at least three of the four games to maintain playoff hopes.
The top three teams advance to the GNAC tournament, hosted by Western Oregon on May 8-9.
EX-RAM SCHUSTER PACES HAWAII IN TENNIS
In just their second season in the Big West Conference, Hawaii’s men’s tennis team, which features North Thurston High graduate David Schuster, won the regular-season title and advanced to the conference tournament final before falling to Cal Poly, 4-1, in Indian Wells, Calif.
Schuster, a senior, won 11 regular-season matches, as well as a 6-4, 6-1 singles win over Cal Poly’s Matt Thompson during the Big West tournament championship final, and was 8-7 overall in doubles matches with three partners.
On Wednesday, the Big West Conference honored Schuster as a first-team all-Big West doubles player with partner Nils Schuhmann.
Schuster, also in Air Force ROTC, will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force following graduation, and will train to become a pilot, said his father, Keith.
South Puget Sound CC men’s basketball coach Aaron Landon announced two local signees for his 2014-15 recruiting class: Olympia’s Khalil Matheney and 2013 Timberline High graduate Elijah Sanders, a transfer from Central Wyoming College. The Clippers went 2-22 in Landon’s first season. … The SMU softball team placed four players on the all-GNAC first team: pitcher Sam Munger, third baseman Megan Miller, second baseman Lacey McGladrey, and outfielder Taviah Jenkins. Shortstop Dani Wall, a Tenino High graduate, and outfielder Mary Dettling were named honorable mention.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/ southsoundsports @megwochnick