MORAGA, Calif. — The Saint Mary’s baseball team is headed to Raleigh, N.C., and the campus of North Carolina State University for its first-ever trip to the NCAA Regionals, as announced Monday morning during the NCAA Selection Show on ESPNU.
The Gaels (33-23) will be the No. 3 seed in the Raleigh Regional and will face No. 2 seed Coastal Carolina (44-15) in the opening game at 11 a.m. PDT/2 p.m. EDT Friday. Host and No. 1 seed NC State (35-20) will play the No. 4 seed Navy (42-14-1). All games of the regional will be streamed live on WatchESPN and available via the ESPN app.
“(NC State) is a very good baseball program, historic,” said Saint Mary’s head coach Eric Valenzuela. “It’s a great regional. Navy’s really good, Coastal Carolina, I know they were talking about them being a potential host and No. 1 seed, so we’ve got our hands full. But to take these guys across the country is going to be a great experience and we’ll be ready to go.”
Saint Mary’s earned its first trip to the NCAA Tournament by winning the West Coast Conference Tournament championship on Saturday, beating Gonzaga 13-4 in the championship game. In the process, the Gaels set a new WCC tournament record with 34 runs scored in just three games. They were also one base hit shy of the tournament record with 42. The Gaels won a share of their first-ever WCC title on May 22 when they completed a sweep on the road at Portland to conclude the conference season.
“We’re all really excited,” said sophomore right-handed pitcher Drew Strotman. “Ever since we got into the (conference) tournament this has all been uncharted territory for Saint Mary’s. Getting into it, we don’t really know what to expect but we have an idea and we know we’re ready to get in there and shock some people.”
The Gaels have 33 wins this season – their most in nearly 40 years (41, 1977). Valenzuela was named 2016 WCC Coach of the Year and has turned the program around in just three seasons. SMC was 16-39 in his first season of 2014, and now has a regular season title, conference tournament title and NCAA Regionals berth – all program firsts. In addition, six Gaels were named to All-WCC teams, including three first-teamers (Corbin Burnes, Anthony Gonsolin, Zach Kirtley). Nine Gaels also earned WCC All-Academic honors, with David Dellaserra, Nate Nolan and Anthony Villa all being named to the All-Academic team.
The Gaels own wins this season over four NCAA Tournament participants, including Pac-12 champion Utah and runner-up Washington. The Gaels went 7-6 against 2016 tournament teams, including a 4-1 mark against WCC at-large team Gonzaga.
“After the win, Sunday a day off, you kind of come back to reality and now that we know where we’re going and who we’re playing, we have a lot of work to do,” said Valenzuela. “We’ve got to get scouting reports together, we have to get travel arrangements, we got to get these guys taken care of as far as when and itineraries and that kinds of stuff, so we have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time before we head out, but this is one of the most exciting days of my life and I’m sure these guys’ lives and here we go.”
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