SMU Earns Playoff Berth, Named Team of Week
SMU will face host Western Oregon in its first game of the 2014 GNAC Baseball Championships on Thursday.
SMU will face host Western Oregon in its first game of the 2014 GNAC Baseball Championships on Thursday.

Monday, May 5, 2014
by Evan O'Kelly, Media Relations Assistant

PORTLAND, Ore. – When the tarp covered the field in Lacey, Wash., on Saturday as the relentless Pacific Northwest prevented a Great Northwest Athletic Conference baseball game, players from both Saint Martin’s and Central Washington had no trouble finding a way to stay entertained throughout the delay.

On the final day of the 2014 regular season, Saint Martin’s awaited the results of a crucial GNAC series in Billings, Mont., watching the game live inside the home dugout during the rain delay.

“It was kind of a unique moment,” SMU baseball head coach Ken Garland said. “Everybody had to hang in there and watch as both games went into extra innings. We had live audio of the game in one dugout and our players were in the other dugout watching the live video, which was a little bit ahead. All of a sudden, our guys screamed out and then you could see on the video the game was over. It was really exciting.”

As Montana State Billings defeated Northwest Nazarene, the third and final GNAC Baseball Championships berth was simultaneously clinched by the Saints. The spot in the playoffs was hardly handed to SMU, which had won five games in a row against the top two teams in the conference. The Saints have been selected as the GNAC Team of the Week.

Most recently, the Saints swept three games from Central Washington last weekend, to cap off an impressive postseason run.

“The biggest key for us is that we were able to regenerate our enthusiasm from one game to the next, and there was a lot of maturity and big time improvement shown by our younger players,” said Garland.

One of those younger players was shortstop Zack Larsen, who set the tone early in the second game of the series against Central Washington with a momentum-building defensive play. 

“On the first pitch of the second game, there was a ball smoked right at Zack,” said Garland. “He just buried it, got up and threw the guy out, and at that point we knew that we weren’t going to let them get to us.”

The play prevented the Wildcats from reaching base in the first inning, and the Saints capitalized with a run in the bottom of the frame. The eventual 3-1 victory fueled the Saints’ confidence.

“We came out against Brandon Williams, who is probably the pitcher of the year, and we were looking forward to the challenge,” Garland said. “We were up 1-0 in the fourth inning and had guys on first and second. Travis Shaw worked a good count against him and got him to elevate a pitch, and he put it into the right-center gap.” 

The two-out, two-run triple for Shaw gave the Saints a 3-0 lead and set the stage for starter Josh Moss to finish a brilliant complete game performance. Moss earned Red Lion Pitcher of the Week honors, surrendering just one earned run with two strikeouts and no walks in the effort.

“Josh had lost to (Williams) in Ellensburg back in March, so he was looking forward to the rematch,” Garland commented on a 3-0 victory for the Wildcats the last time the two starters met and each tossed a complete game.

The pivotal Game 2 win was sandwiched by a pair of more resounding victories, as the Saints took the first game of the series 11-4 and finished strong with an 11-6 result in what ended up being the finale. The final scheduled game of the series was cancelled after the Saints clinched a playoff berth.

“Saturday we were down 5-2 in the seventh inning, and we had some guys execute plays to get us back into the game late,” Garland said of a three-run seventh and six-run eighth to complete the comeback win in Game 3. “We had some guys left on base earlier in the game, but we finally got some clutch hits there later on.”

Waiting to discover their fate was a strenuous task to say the least, but when MSUB won on an extra inning walk-off hit for the second game in a row, all that mattered was that SMU’s season would continue.

“I think our guys have been playing in a postseason type atmosphere for the last two weeks,” Garland said. “They know how to handle it, and we are going to approach it the same way: one pitch at a time.” 

Considering SMU’s opponents for this week’s championships are the two teams it has most recently defeated, the Saints enter the tournament with the confidence that they can compete with anyone in the GNAC.

“Our kids are feeling good right now, and we aren’t going to change anything up,” Garland said. “We are excited to get here, and you have to give our guys credit considering what they have had to do over the last three weeks. They didn’t pack it in and our guys definitely deserve to be here. We are just going to go out and play baseball.”