Sports

Saint Martin’s closing in on GNAC softball title after sweep of CWU

The magic number is two.

That’s how many combined wins by Saint Martin’s and losses by Western Western or Montana State Billings with four regular-games remaining for the Saints to clinch the Great Northwest Athletic Conference softball title for the second time in three seasons after Saturday’s 2-1, 4-3 doubleheader sweep of Central Washington at the SMU Softball Field.

Saint Martin’s (36-16 overall, 16-4 GNAC) concludes the regular season at last-place Northwest Nazarene (7-33, 2-18) with doubleheaders Friday and Saturday.

But a regular season title doesn’t guarantee the Saints an NCAA berth. In order to ensure a trip to the NCAA West Regionals like they did in 2013, the Saints must win the GNAC tournament, where the top four teams will play in Yakima from April 30-May 2.

While the outcome of Saturday’s games was the same as the March 21 sweep of CWU in Ellensburg, the run production wasn’t: 36 runs in two games against Central in March compared with six in Lacey.

But on the day the Saints honored seniors Sam Munger, Taviah Jenkins, Dani Wall and Christina DeMar, Munger and Wall had final home games to remember.

Munger picked up wins in both games, pitching a complete-game five-hitter with three strikeouts in the opener, then earned the win in one inning of relief in the second game. She continued her hot hitting, too, extending her GNAC-leading hitting streak to 21 games after a 5 for 7 performance on the day.

Saints coach Rick Noren said it was the most focused the senior has been all season.

“It seems like every at-bat was a good one for her today,” he said.

Munger now owns two of the six longest streaks in GNAC history, including a 26-gamer over her sophomore (25 games) and junior (one game) seasons

Wall, a 2011 Tenino High graduate, had a third inning RBI single, which proved to be enough for the Saints to hold on for the 2-1 Game 1 win, but her heroics continued in walk-off fashion in her final home at-bat in Game 2.

Trailing 3-2 in the seventh with two on and no outs, Munger’s RBI single and fifth hit of the day made it a 3-3 game. The bases were loaded for Wall after Jenkins was intentionally walked following a pitching change by Central, and Wall took a pitch up high and in the middle — “that’s a spot I like,” she said — and hit it over center fielder Celine Fowler’s to drive in Lindsay Miller with the winning run in the 4-3 victory.

With the GNAC tournament less than two weeks away, Wall said there’s still room to grow and the team’s consistency level isn’t where it should be. It’s only a matter of putting it together for seven innings, she said.

“It takes that switch,” said Wall, a utility player who played first base and finished 4 for 7 with two RBI on the day. “We’re getting there.”

Noren called the past four wins “huge” and some of the biggest wins in program history. On Friday, SMU swept reigning GNAC champion Western Oregon — 9-12, 7-8 — in Monmouth, Oregon, needing a nine-run sixth inning after trailing 5-0 in Game 1.

The Saints won two one-run games Saturday, one in come-from-behind fashion.

“Every one of these games we’ve played, the last four, have been championship level,” Noren said. “We needed our best to beat those teams.”

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