MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Saint Anselm College softball team will begin its showing at the East 2 Regional of the 2018 NCAA Division II Softball Championship against a familiar foe, Merrimack College, in game one of the pod on Thursday, May 10.
The Hawks earned the No. 2 seed in the eight-team regional, which is made up of two four-team pods, and the right to host one of the pods on Monday morning. In an all-Northeast-10 Conference pod that also includes No. 3 seed Southern New Hampshire and No. 6 seed Pace, Saint Anselm will start the tournament against No. 7 seed and Northeast Divisional foe Merrimack at noon on Thursday.
The second game of the opening day will pit the third-seeded Penmen against the sixth-seeded Setters at 2:30 p.m. The winner of the double-elimination, four-team pod will play the winner of the other half of the East Regional, hosted by Adelphi, in a best-two-of-three super regional on May 17-18. The opening-day games in the East 1 Regional pod pit No. 1 seed Adelphi against No. 8 seed Caldwell (12 p.m.) and No. 4 seed LIU Post against No. 5 seed Le Moyne (2:30 p.m).
Tickets for the four-team pod hosted by Saint Anselm will be sold for each day and are $5 for adults and $2 for seniors, students and children (12 and under). Tickets are good for one day only but cover all games for that day.
HOW THEY GOT HERE – SAINT ANSELM: The Hawks earned their third NCAA Tournament berth via an at-large bid following a record-setting regular season. Saint Anselm enters the regional with a 36-10-1 record but fell, 2-0, to Pace in the semifinals of the NE10 Softball Championship on Friday. The team's 36 victories are a school record, surpassing the previous record set by the 1997 team that finished 33-9.
HOW THEY GOT HERE – MERRIMACK: Merrimack also received an at-large bid into the regional and is in the field of 64 for the second-straight season. The Warriors begin their 15th NCAA Tournament appearance with a 31-14 record. Like Saint Anselm, Merrimack was eliminated from the NE10 Softball Championship by Pace, falling 3-1 in the quarterfinals.
SCOUTING SAINT ANSELM
- Led by NE10 Coach of the Year Jill Gagnon, Saint Anselm had a program-record eight all-NE10 selections in 2018. Amanda Bickford, Megan Murrell and Erin Thompson were First Team choices. Maggie Murphy, Morgan Perry and Courtney Fisher were named to the Second Team, while Jordan O'Connor and Shannon Colson earned Third Team nods. Fisher was also an NE10 All-Rookie Team choice.
- A four-time All-NE10 selection, Bickford is Saint Anselm's all-time leader in career hits (221), while her 72 hits this season are also a school record. A career .388 hitter, the senior's .407 batting average this season is second-best in the NE10.
- Murrell is Saint Anselm's all-time leader in career RBI (100), while her 45 this season lead the NE10 and are second-most in a single season by a Hawk.
- Thompson's 16 multi-hit games this season are second on the team to Bickford (24) and she owns the Hawks' lone four-hit game of the season (Mar. 10 vs. Ursuline).
- Perry and Fisher both rank in the NE10's top seven in both wins and ERA this season. Perry suffered her first loss since Mar. 31 in the semifinals of the NE10 Softball Championship, while Fisher is 6-0 with a 0.47 ERA and two saves over her last nine appearances dating back to Apr. 14. Perry's 19 victories are one shy of matching the single-season program record (Lisa Petell - 20-4, 1999).
- As a team, Saint Anselm ranks 13th in Division II in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.37) and 21st in ERA (2.04) this season. Perry's 5.08 ratio ranks 17th in the country individually.
- Saint Anselm's NE10-high .319 batting average ranks third-highest in program history and is the team's highest since 1999 (.328). The team's on-base percentage of .393 trails only the 1982 team (.413) for the highest in a single season, while the Hawks are two runs shy of tying the 1999 team's single-season run record of 246.
- Colson's NE10-best 30 stolen bases have helped the Hawks swipe a school-record 83 bases – 20 more than the previous record (2010). The 30 stolen bases leave Colson one away from matching Nicole Boucher's record of 31 from 2014.
- The semifinal loss to Pace Pace marked just the second time the Hawks have been shut out this season. The Hawks have shut out their opposition 11 times this season.
- Saint Anselm, which is 13-1 this season at home, has lost back-to-back games just once this season (Mar. 2 vs. Kentucky Wesleyan and Nova Southeastern) and is receiving votes (9) in this week's National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division II Top 25 Coaches Poll.
- Merrimack boasts one of the top offenses in the NE10, ranking second in the league in stolen bases (66) and tied for second in batting average (.305). The Warriors are also third in the conference in runs (216), RBI (192) and hits (377).
- Senior Megan Cook, the NE10 Pitcher of the Year, is a threat both in the circle and at the plate for Merrimack. She leads the NE10 in wins (23), complete games (25) and innings pitched (203.1) this season, while setting the program's single-season strikeout record (172). Cook is second in the conference and 18th in Division II in ERA (1.27) and is second on the Warriors in batting average (.388).
- A First Team All-NE10 selection for the second-straight year, senior Alyssa Williamson is Merrimack's leader in hits (65), total bases (79) and batting average (.439). Her .439 batting average ranks 32nd in all of Division II.
- Junior outfielder Nicole Nanof was a Third Team All-NE10 choice and leads the Warriors in home runs (6) and RBI (30), while also swiping 14 bases in 15 tries.
- Head coach Elaine Schwager is in the fourth season of her second stint at the helm of the Merrimack program. Last season, she was named the NE10 Coach of the Year after leading the Warriors to their first-ever divisional crown and their most wins (35) in 13 years. In 17 years of coaching, Schwager has amassed a 331-321 (.508) record.
- Merrimack has won 20 combined NE10 regular-season and tournament titles, with the program's seven NE10 Tournament crowns being the highest total of any conference school.
- The Warriors have made five College World Series appearances, including winning the national title in 1994 – the 1994 title is the lone softball national championship by an NE10 institution.
- Despite averaging 4.8 runs per game for the season, the Warriors have been held to two runs or fewer in four of their last five games.
- As a team, Merrimack boasts the nation's second-best fielding percentage (.978), having committed just 30 errors this season in 45 games.
NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY: Saint Anselm is 2-4 (.333) in its previous two appearances in the East Regional. In 2015, the Hawks suffered a pair of losses to host Southern New Hampshire (L, 3-0 | L, 2-1) on either side of a 2-1 win over Queens (N.Y.). In 2002, Saint Anselm won its opener, 7-1, over C.W. Post before back-to-back losses to Le Moyne (L, 5-0) and American International (L, 2-1) ended the Hawks' first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
THE GAGNON FILE: This season's NE10 Coach of the Year, Jill Gagnon is in her fifth season as the head coach at Saint Anselm. With a career record of 116-80-1 (.591), Gagnon earned her first NE10 Coach of the Year honor after guiding the Hawks to a school-record 36 victories and a Northeast Division regular-season title. Gagnon, who played for Schwager at Merrimack and was a First Team All-NE10 selection in 2009, came to Saint Anselm after three seasons as the pitching coach at UMass Boston from 2010-12. After spending the 2013 season as an assistant on the Hilltop, Gagnon has led the Hawks to two of the program's three NCAA Tournament appearances since starting as head coach in 2014.
ALL-TIME VS. MERRIMACK: Merrimack owns a 59-24 advantage in the all-time series with Saint Anselm, although the Hawks won two of the three regular-season meetings this spring. All three of the regular-season games were in Manchester, where the Warriors now hold a 31-12 lead all-time. Earlier this season, the teams split a doubleheader on Mar. 31, with Merrimack winning game one, 7-4, and Saint Anselm taking game two, 7-1. Two days later, Murphy delivered a walk-off RBI single to give the Hawks a 5-4 win, which was also Gagnon's 100th-career victory.