Gaels Softball Team Captures First West Coast Conference Title in Program History

With a dominating win on Senior Day, the Gaels move on to post-season play for the first time in 14 years. They travel across the bay for a first-round matchup against Stanford.

by Ryan Barnett, Assistant Athletic Director for Communications | May 13, 2024

Saint Mary's softball team (30–22, 10–6 WCC) captured its first-ever West Coast Conference championship this weekend with an 8–0 victory over the LMU Lions (28–25, 9–7 WCC). The Gaels now head back to the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2010 and will face the 8th-seeded Stanford Cardinal on Friday, May 17, at 7 p.m. Pacific. The game will be televised live on ESPN2.

Here’s how the Gaels arrived at this moment: In a must-win game on Saturday, May 11 that would determine their post-season fate, the Gaels put veteran Avrey Wolverton on the mound. She tossed 6.1 innings of one-run softball just a day earlier but showed no fatigue, holding LMU hitless until the third inning. The redshirt sophomore was locked in as ever, using her rise ball to induce weak contact throughout the game. She allowed six hits and a pair of walks but stranded every Lions runner who reached base. Wolverton tossed a complete six innings, while her offense rallied behind her with all the run support she would need.

The Gaels hit the scoreboard early in the first, when Alex Cutonilli ripped her team-best 12th double of the season to the left centerfield gap, scoring both Marissa Montelongo and Jenavee Amador as Saint Mary's took the momentum early. They added a third run in the second, when Amador was robbed of a hit by LMU second baseman Ari Jaurequi but still was able to plate Marissa Nishihara from third. The situation went from good to better when Montelongo blasted her first home run at home in her four-year Saint Mary's career, also bringing in Hannah Ferguson and Nishihara to make it 6–0 in the fourth. 

Gaels win softball championship
Welcome home: Extending the Gaels lead to 6–0 in a must-win game, No. 5 Marissa Montelongo is greeted by jubilant teammates after launching her first home run at home in her four-year career. Hannah Ferguson and Marissa Nishihara also scored on the three-run blast. / Photo courtesy SMC Softball

A Game for the History Books

In the bottom of the sixth, the Gaels put LMU in run-rule danger then cashed in to end the game early. Nishihara and Ferguson each reached on infield singles, followed by a Montelongo sacrifice bunt that put the game-ending run in scoring position. Amador laced one to shortstop that was stopped by the LMU shortstop for an infield single. Amador then took a big turn around first base, drawing a throw back to first as the speedy Ferguson dashed for the plate and scored the eighth run of the game. The Gaels were officially WCC Champs.

Raising the trophy
On to the NCCAs: After an impressive, do-or-die win on May 11, the Gaels softball team raised the WCC trophy in celebration. It was the program's first-ever WCC championship. / Photo courtesy SMC Softball

The win was also Head Coach Sonja Garnett's 100th at the helm of the Gaels and marked only the second-ever 30-win season in program history.

Appropriate on Senior Day, it was a pair of seniors, Nishihara and Montelongo, whose fingerprints could be found all over the championship-clinching victory. Nishihara logged a pair of infield knocks and scored three of the Gaels eight runs. Montelongo added two more runs scored on her own, and three runs driven in on her third collegiate home run, and her first at Cottrell Field. Ferguson picked up her first complete game shutout of the season and brought her ERA down to 2.88 from 3.08 where it stood at the start of the day.

At a Selection Sunday watch party inside UCU Pavilion, the Gaels learned they would face Bay Area rival Stanford on May 17. The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start and will be televised on ESPN2.

Story updated May 17, 2024, at 2:30 a.m. Pacific.