MORAGA, Calif. — The Saint Mary’s baseball team embarks upon a historic journey this weekend when it heads to Raleigh, N.C., and the campus of North Carolina State for its first-ever trip to an NCAA Regional and begins the Road to Omaha in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
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) at 4 p.m. PDT/7 p.m. EDT Friday. All games of the regional will be streamed live on WatchESPN and available via the ESPN app.
Saint Mary’s enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. The Gaels have won seven of their last eight games, including three straight last weekend to win the West Coast Conference Tournament in Stockton. Both pitching and hitting have been going well for the Gaels. SMC batted .372 as a team in the WCC Tournament, and the starting pitching staff posted a 3.72 ERA with 23 total strikeouts and a 2-0 record among them.
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.
KIRTLEY SHAKES OFF SLUMP TO EARN MVP
Sophomore second baseman Zach Kirtley is on the upswing again, earning Most Valuable Player honors at last week’s WCC Tournament. He hit .588 (10 for 17) with six RBIs, four runs and three doubles. He had the game-winning hit in Thursday’s 8-7 11-inning walk-off victory over Pepperdine and RBI hits in all three games.
Kirtley had slumped for six weeks entering the tournament, hitting just .157 in his past 23 games. But in just three games in Stockton, he raised his season batting average by 23 points to a team-leading .326.
A PRETTY GOOD YEAR ALREADY
The Gaels have 33 wins this season – their most in nearly 40 years (41, 1977). It is the first time the program has posted at least 30 wins in a quarter century. Saint Mary’s won 32 games in 1991 en route to a third-place finish in the WCC.
FINE JOB, COACH
Saint Mary’s head coach Eric 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.
Six Gaels were named to All-WCC teams this season, 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.
GAELS AGAINST THE FIELD
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 selection Gonzaga.
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A gift to the Gael Athletic Fund directly benefits Saint Mary's student-athletes. This allows them the opportunity to attain an education guided by our Catholic, Lasallian and Liberal Arts traditions while participating in a competitive athletic experience. Monies raised through the Fund will assist in funding scholarships, facilities, operating budgets and academic support.