Road Trip, Gaels Style

Alex Ducas rose, fired a 3-pointer and, by the time the ball hit the bottom of the net, a roar erupted from behind the Saint Mary’s men’s basketball team’s bench.

Gael Nation was in the house, loud and proud, and ready to support their favorite team.

That collective noise proved important as the Gaels opened the 2022 NCAA Tournament with a thoroughly dominant 82-53 victory over Indiana at Moda Center in Portland. A hearty group of Saint Mary’s fans turned out to cheer on their squad, providing the soundtrack and emotion for a highly enjoyable night of college basketball.

The stories of who came from where to support SMC were plentiful, but the journey was especially impressive for a group of 46 current Saint Mary’s students who made the trek from Moraga to Portland.

The excursion began just before 9 p.m. on Wednesday night as the students boarded a charter bus on campus in Moraga to begin the trip. Fueled by pizza and each armed with a negative COVID-19 test, the group set course for Portland.

For SMC senior Darby Smith, the choice was easy.

“When else am I going to get to basically come to a March Madness game for almost free,” Smith said just a few hours after arriving in Portland. “I love basketball and it was a great opportunity to do it.”

SMC Vice President for Student Life Anthony Garrison-Engbrecht was also among the Gael faithful in the crowd Thursday night. Having teamed up with the SMC Athletic Department to arrange transportation and tickets, Garrison-Engbrecht couldn’t help but smile when asked about the students’ journey and the school spirit on display.

“This was absolutely a priority for us to get students up here to support our Gaels,” Garrison-Engbrecht said. “Logistics take care of themselves, but it’s a lot of passion, a lot of spirit, and a lot of Gael energy. That’s it.”

The trip included two stops, one in Redding and one in Southern Oregon. And, as with any good road trip, excitement kept the group afloat for at least a while.

But at some point, reality sets in, right?

“When everyone was getting water at the vending machine at the second stop, that’s when I was like what am I doing,” said senior Kulia Osborne.

For junior Julia Parashis, the trip included a bit of trepidation. Never particularly a fan of long car rides, Parashis has followed the Gaels all year and wasn’t about to stop now.

But, was it at least a little crazy that she’d be driving 12 hours to watch basketball?

“Oh, 100 percent. Especially because I hate driving. I hate long drives. So that was really terrifying for me,” Parashis said. “But I was like I know this is going to be a really fun experience and I would regret it if I didn’t go.”

The group got to their hotel around 9 a.m. on Thursday morning, split up to take showers and naps, and later that day, their faith was rewarded.

A 21-5 run to open the second half helped SMC turn a 12-point halftime lead into an insurmountable advantage. Logan Johnson led the way with 20 points, Tommy Kuhse added 19, and Alex Ducas and Matthias Tass also finished in double figures.

The win came against one of college basketball's blue bloods, and with such a lopsided victory over the Hoosiers, the Gaels proved exactly why they earned their No. 5 seed, the highest in school history.

“It’s very surreal. Just knowing we’re in March Madness is crazy,” said junior Emily Garcia. “I’m just glad to be here to support the school and support the team because I know it means a lot to them.”

With Thursday’s win, Saint Mary’s moves into Saturday’s round of 32 to take on either UCLA. Tip time for that game will be 4:10 p.m. PT and the game will be broadcast live on TBS.

For more information and a full game recap of Thursday’s win over Indiana, visit SMCGaels.com.