MORAGA, Calif. — The Saint Mary's baseball team returns to Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton this week for the 2017 West Coast Conference Championship Tournament, seeking to defend its title from a year ago and earn a second straight berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The Gaels (37-18, 18-9 WCC) enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed and will face top-seeded Gonzaga at 3 p.m. Thursday. Depending on the result of Thursday's game, Saint Mary's could face either No. 2 seed Loyola Marymount (37-16, 20-7 WCC) or No. 3 seed BYU (33-18, 20-7 WCC) in the winners' bracket at 3:30 p.m. Friday or in an elimination game at noon.
Tickets for the tournament are available for purchase on the Stockton Ports' website. All of the Gaels' games at the WCC Tournament will be streamed live on the Gaels' Gameday Central page. Each game of the tournament will also be viewable live on Twitter.
Saint Mary's swept rival Santa Clara last weekend to clinch the fourth and final spot in the tournament. The defending champions enter the tournament on a hot streak, having won five in a row and nine of their last 10. Saint Mary's has gone 20-8 since suffering a three-game sweep at BYU on March 30-April 1.
Thursday: LHP Ken Waldichuk (3-3, 1.36 ERA, 45 Ks, 13 BB) vs. RHP Eli Morgan (9-2, 2.85 ERA, 128 K)
Friday: TBA vs. TBA
The Bulldogs (31-18, 20-7 WCC) clinched a share of its second straight WCC regular season title with a sweep of BYU last weekend. Gonzaga also shared the title in 2016 with BYU and Saint Mary's. GU dropped a non-conference game at Fresno State, 9-2, on Monday. The Bulldogs are 2-2 this season in neutral site games. They have won six of their last eight games.
The Bulldogs' pitching staff is second in the WCC in ERA (3.49), strikeouts per nine innings (8.3) and WHIP (1.32). No. 1 starter Eli Morgan is No. 4 in the country with 128 strikeouts. The Bulldogs' offense is led by Sam Brown with a .322 batting average and 65 hits. Tyler Frost is Gonzaga's top power threat with a team-best nine home runs and 35 RBIs. Gonzaga does not run much with only 15 stolen bases in less than 30 attempts on the year.
PARTYING LIKE ITS 2016
Saint Mary's blew through the 2016 Tournament in the program's first-ever appearance, setting a tourney record with 34 runs scored and falling just one hit short of the tournament record with 42, en route to a perfect 3-0 record, its first WCC Tournament title and its first trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Gaels beat Gonzaga twice in the tournament last year with identical 13-4 scores to seal the title. The two teams will face off again Thursday, this time to open the tournament.
OFFENSE ON THE RISE IN 2017
2016's WCC Champion Saint Mary's offense was pretty good – four players with seven or more home runs and three with 36 or more RBIs. But the 2017 version is even better. The '17 Gaels have a better batting average (.286), slugging percentage (.414), on-base percentage (.368), have already scored more runs (347) and hit more home runs (41) than last year's squad. They've also played small ball better with more sacrifices and stolen bases.
Should the Gaels earn a chance to advance, the NCAA Tournament begins with the regionals round on June 2 running through June 5. NCAA Regional host sites will be announced after the WCC Tournament, and the NCAA Selection Show is at 9 a.m. Monday on ESPNU.
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