SALEM, Va. – The Saint Anselm College softball team gets its first-ever showing at the NCAA Division II Softball Championship underway on Thursday when the second-seeded Hawks take on seventh-seeded Southern Arkansas University at 4 p.m. at the James I. Moyer Sports Complex.
After both teams ran through their regionals with unblemished 5-0 records to advance to Salem, the Hawks (41-10-1) and Muleriders (57-9) will play in the third game of the day on Thursday in the first-ever meeting between the two programs. The winner will advance to take on either No. 3 seed Chico State (55-4) or No. 6 seed Saint Leo (37-16) at 1:30 p.m. on Friday in the winner's bracket, while the losers of the 2-7 and 3-6 matchups on Thursday will face off in an elimination game on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
In the top half of the bracket, No. 1 seed North Georgia (61-2) and No. 8 seed Southern Indiana (36-23) meet in the first game on Thursday at 11 a.m. That game will be followed by No. 4 seed Angelo State (52-3) and No. 5 seed West Chester (45-13) at 1:30 p.m. The top-seeded Nighthawks (2015) and fourth-seeded Rambelles (2004) are the only teams in the final eight to have won a national championship. Angelo State was also last season's national runner-up.
Fans making the trip to the James I. Moyer Sports Complex in Salem can purchase tickets at the complex. Individual day tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for seniors, students and youth. All-session tickets are available for $35 for adults and $20 for seniors, students and youth. Those unable to make the trip can follow along at the live video and live stat links posted above.
HOW THEY GOT HERE – SAINT ANSELM: Saint Anselm punched its ticket to Salem by running through the East Regional with a perfect 5-0 record with all five wins coming on its home diamond. After posting three wins over Northeast-10 Conference opposition in the East 2 Regional to advance to the Super Regionals for the first time, the Hawks swept LIU Post by scores of 3-1 and 5-0 to advance to the NCAA Division II College World Series. Prior to the 5-0 victory over the Pioneers that clinched the East Regional crown, Saint Anselm's first four wins in the regional came by a combined six runs.
HOW THEY GOT HERE – SOUTHERN ARKANSAS: Like Saint Anselm, Southern Arkansas went 5-0 to win its regional in its third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and fourth in the last five seasons. As the No. 2 seed in the region, the eighth-ranked Muleriders advanced to the super regionals by winning the Central 2 Regional with wins over No. 7 seed Minnesota State-Mankato on either side of a 4-1 victory over No. 3 seed Augustana University (S.D.). Southern Arkansas met No. 4 seed and No. 25-ranked Minnesota Duluth in the Super Regional and swept the Bulldogs by scores of 1-0 and 12-3 (5 inn.) to be one of the last eight teams standing in Division II for the second time in three years (2016). The Muleriders had not made the NCAA Tournament prior to 2014.
SAINT ANSELM NOTES
THE ELITE…TWO?: Across all of Saint Anselm's varsity sports, the College has sent only two teams to the Elite Eight from a field of 64 teams. The last team to qualify was the 1999-00 men's basketball team that finished 23-9 after a trip to Louisville, Ky. to take on Metropolitan State. In 2017-18, the Hawks have competed in NCAA postseason events in men's basketball, men's and women's cross country, men's golf, field hockey and women's volleyball.
FLYING HIGH: Since starting the season 13-7-1, the Hawks are 28-3 in their last 31 games dating back to Mar. 25. Saint Anselm has won 18 of its last 19 games since Apr. 11, including a school-record 13-game winning streak from Apr. 11-28, before falling in the semifinals of the Northeast-10 Conference Softball Championship to Pace on May 4 in Garden City, N.Y.
RECORD PLAYERS: The Hawks student-athletes have helped the team set several team records in 2018, including games played (52), highest on-base percentage (.390, min. 1,000 at-bats), most at-bats (1,430), most runs scored (262), most hits (452), doubles (79), runs batted in (227), total bases (597), base on balls (155), times hit by pitch (27), stolen bases (86), saves (6), innings pitched (347), putouts (1,041), assists (489) and wins (41), while tying the team record for shutouts (12).
IN THE POLLS: Saint Anselm's 13-game winning streak helped propel the Hawks into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division II Top 25 Coaches Poll for the first time in program history at No. 24 in the polls released on Apr. 22 and Apr. 29.
'MO'WING THEM DOWN: Sophomore pitcher Morgan Perry appeared in all five of Saint Anselm's games at the East Regional, going 4-0 with a 0.93 ERA while also picking up her first-career save in the first game of the regional. In 30.0 innings of work, Perry allowed just 16 hits and three walks while striking out 37. She has thrown four-straight complete games, including a three-hit, six-strikeout shutout of LIU Post in the regional-clinching win. In the two games against the Pioneers at the Super Regional, Perry held a team averaging over five runs a game to one run in 14.0 innings (0.50 ERA) with no walks and 14 strikeouts.
PITCHING PROWESS: At the regional, Perry and freshman Courtney Fisher limited the Hawks' opponents to seven runs (five earned, 1.00 ERA) over five games. Opposing hitters batted just .184 off the duo, including .152 off Perry. As a team, Saint Anselm's ERA of 1.94 this season ranks 16th in the country, while the team's 4.42 strikeout-to-walk ratio is eighth-best in Division II.
TOUGH TO BEAT TWICE: The Hawks have lost back-to-back games just once this season, falling 7-4 to Kentucky Wesleyan and 2-1 to Nova Southeastern on Mar. 2 on the team's first day at the PFX Spring Games in Clermont, Fla.
POSTSEASON AWARDS: Saint Anselm had a school-record eight All-NE10 selections this season, led by First Team honorees senior outfielder Amanda Bickford, senior catcher Megan Murrell and sophomore designated player Erin Thompson. Sophomore outfielder Maggie Murphy, sophomore pitcher Morgan Perry and freshman pitcher Courtney Fisher were named to the Second Team, while junior shortshop Jordan O'Connor and sophomore outfielder Shannon Colson earned spots on the Third Team.
Bickford, Murrell and Thompson all gathered All-East Region accolades from both the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) and the Division II Conference Commissioners Association. All three were first-team picks by the NFCA, while Bickford and Thompson landed spots on the D2CCA All-East Region First Team. Perry was named to the D2CCA Second Team.
HITTING STRIDE: Senior Amanda Bickford is Saint Anselm's all-time leader in career hits with 229 and is a career .390 hitter. Her 80 hits this season are a single-season school record and rank 10th in Division II. Earlier this season, Bickford had a 19-game hitting streak from Mar. 7 – Apr. 9 and is currently on a team-high eight-game hitting streak. She is on pace to become the eighth Hawk to bat over .400 in a season (min. 75 at-bats).
RBI MACHINE: Senior Megan Murrell holds the school record for career RBI with 104 and her 49 runs batted in this season is the second-highest single-season total in program history (Amy Parece, 54, 1999).
PRESEASON POLL: Saint Anselm was picked third, behind Merrimack and Southern New Hampshire, in the Northeast Division in the Northeast-10 Conference Preseason Coaches Poll. The Hawks won the divisional crown with a 19-2 record in divisional games, finishing five games ahead of crosstown-rival Southern New Hampshire, as part of a 23-3-1 showing in NE10 play.
SCOUTING SOUTHERN ARKANSAS
Southern Arkansas bring a 57-9 record to Salem and was 38-6 in the Great American Conference (GAC) on its way to winning the regular-season conference title. The top-seeded Muleriders went 3-2 in the GAC Tournament with both losses coming to No. 5 seed Southern Nazarene University by a single run, including a 1-0 defeat that eliminated Southern Arkansas in the final game of the loser's bracket. That game marked the second time all season the Muleriders have been shut out.
The Midwest Regional champions boast one of the top offenses and pitching staffs in the country, ranking 19th in Division II in runs per game (6.59) and seventh in team ERA (1.66). Led by GAC Player of the Year Brooke Goad, who is Division II's all-time home run leader with 90 in her career, the Muleriders have 110 home runs this season and rank second in the country in home runs per game (1.67). One of six SAU student-athletes with double-digit home runs this season, Goad leads Division II with 32 long balls this season while ranking fourth in RBI (69) and third in slugging percentage (1.043), while walking a Division-II-record 82 times. Sophomore Faith Otts also ranks in the country's top 10 in RBI this season (eighth, 66).
In the circle, the Muleriders are led by sophomore Victoria Taylor, who is 31-0 with a 1.19 ERA in 38 appearances (37 starts) with 224 strikeouts in 218.1 innings. She ranks second in Division II in wins, 11th in strikeouts and 13th in ERA and also has eight shutouts to her credit. Taylor has allowed more than one earned run in juts six-of-38 appearances this season.
NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY: Saint Anselm carries a 7-4 all-time record in the national tournament into the 2018 NCAA Division II College World Series, its third showing in the field of 64. After going 1-2 in the regionals in both 2002 and 2015, the Hawks ran through the East Regional with a 5-0 record this season to earn their first spot in the final eight.
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 and has a career record of 121-80-1 (.602). Gagnon has guided the Hawks to a school-record 41 victories, their first-ever national ranking and a Northeast Division regular-season title on her way to earning her first NE10 Coach of the Year honor. She came to the Hilltop after three seasons as the pitching coach at UMass Boston (2010-12) and, following one season as an assistant, has led the Hawks to two of the program's three NCAA Tournament appearances since starting as head coach in 2014. Originally from Manchester, N.H., Gagnon played collegiately at Merrimack, where she was a First Team All-NE10 selection in 2009 after a standout high school career at Manchester Memorial.
ALL-TIME VS. SOUTHERN ARKANSAS: Saint Anselm and Southern Arkansas are meeting for the first time in softball. The Muleriders are one of six teams in the eight-team field the Hawks have never faced. Saint Anselm's 4-1 win over then-No. 16 West Chester in its season opener on Feb. 16 is the lone game the Hawks have played against one of the remaining seven other teams.