Northwest Nazarene Selected To Repeat GNAC Title Run
Northwest Nazarene tied for first place in the final regular season GNAC standings and then won the GNAC Championships on its home field in 2016. Photo by Kari Stetson.
Northwest Nazarene tied for first place in the final regular season GNAC standings and then won the GNAC Championships on its home field in 2016. Photo by Kari Stetson.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. – After finishing in a tie for first place in the regular season and winning the GNAC Championships in 2016, Northwest Nazarene is the pick of the GNAC coaches to win the conference title in 2017.

Four teams finished the regular season within one game of each other in the conference standings in 2016, and this year is expected to be just as competitive. Three teams split the first place votes with Northwest Nazarene taking four and Western Oregon and Central Washington each taking one. Defending co-conference champion Montana State Billings comes in fourth, but is only 12 points behind Northwest Nazarene in the voting.

For the first time in conference history, the GNAC Championships will be expanded to four teams after being a three-team tournament since it was introduced in 2013. The GNAC Championships will be hosted by the GNAC’s newest member, Concordia, on May 10-12. It will be the first GNAC championship hosted by Concordia in any sport.

Northwest Nazarene returns four starting position players from last year’s team, which ended the year winning six of seven games to lift the conference trophy at the GNAC Championships. The Crusaders got a four-game sweep against Concordia on the last week of the season to secure their spot in the conference tournament. After dropping the first game, NNU came back to win the next two games by one-run margins.

Left-handed pitcher Jaramy Jacobs threw 8.1 innings in those last two wins, including recording the last seven outs of the championship game. He is one of four starting pitchers to return to the Crusaders’ roster this year. He is joined by all-GNAC honorable mention Ross Clevenger, who threw 67.2 innings and had a 5-2 record last year.

The Crusaders also return NCBWA First Team All-West Region third-baseman Andrew Helmstadter who had a .331 batting average with four home runs and 27 RBIs last year. He is joined by first baseman Brady Baker, who started 43 games last year and drove in 23 runs.

Western Oregon finished right behind NNU in the voting with 30 points after a runner-up finish at the GNAC Championships last year. The Wolves return GNAC Pitcher of the Year Brady Miller, who threw 80.1 innings last year and had a 10-2 record with a 3.14 ERA. His 10 wins led the GNAC and ranked 14th in NCAA Division II.

The Wolves offense produced a GNAC-best 361 runs last year, but WOU lost five starting position players, including all of their top three players in batting average. Western Oregon does, however, return all-GNAC honorable mention second baseman and leadoff hitter Jay Leverett, who had a .426 on base percentage. The Wolves also added University of Washington transfer Nyles Nygaard to the infield. As a Husky, Nygaard played in 37 games, starting two, and drove in four runs.

Central Washington is picked third by the GNAC coaches and received one first-place vote to finish one point ahead of Montana State Billings. The Wildcats took fourth place last year, missing out on the GNAC Championships despite being just one game out of first place. They return a total of four starters from last year’s squad.

Topping that list of returning starters is their ace McKenzie Gaul, who had a GNAC-best 2.13 ERA in 55 innings pitched. The left-hander struck out 6.9 batters per nine innings and earned four wins in his junior season. Offensively, CWU brings back all-GNAC honorable mention third baseman Dylan Freyer, who had a .300 batting average last year. He is joined by utility player Kyle Stahl, who had a .379 batting average with two home runs and 16 RBIs.

Montana State Billings came in fourth in the preseason poll after being co-regular season conference champions in 2016. The Yellowjackets finished the regular season on an incredible run of 11 wins in 12 games to qualify for the GNAC Championships on the last day of the season. Adam Cox was a crucial piece to that run, collecting three wins on the mound while also helping the team with his bat. He is one of four starters to return to the Yellojackets’ roster.

Cox finished the season with a .371 batting average and a 6-1 record on the mound to earn Second Team All-GNAC recognition. Alongside him is leadoff hitter Casey Merritt, who missed most of the 2016 season after being a second team all-conference selection in 2015. Outfielder Zach Robinson will add depth to the MSUB batting lineup after recording a .272 batting average last year with six extra-base hits.

The Yellowjackets also bring back their ace, Cody Cooper, who was a NCBWA Second Team All-West Region selection after registering a 7-2 record in 13 starts with a 2.81 ERA. Cooper had a GNAC-best 106 strikeouts last year and led the GNAC in innings pitched as well with 99.1. Matt Hape also returns to the MSUB pitching rotation after starting 12 games last year with a 6-4 record.

Concordia and Saint Martin’s are tied for fifth place in the preseason poll with each receiving 10 points. Concordia finished the 2016 season one game ahead of Saint Martin’s with a 13-27 GNAC record but both teams finished with an identical record of 15-35 overall.

Concordia, the GNAC Championships host, will look to qualify for the tournament in its second year in the league. The Cavaliers return starting pitcher Jake Brewer and relief pitcher Ryan Caylor. Concordia also returns its leadoff hitter Cole Crosby. The outfielder had a team-best .305 batting average in 2016 and was a Second Team All-GNAC selection. Concordia returns a conference-high seven starting position players to the roster in 2017.

Saint Martin’s brings back two pitchers from its four-man rotation with Mickey Walker and Aaron Shoup back on the Saints’ roster. The two combined to throw 135 innings last year and had seven wins combined. All-GNAC honorable mention Adam Eskil is also back on the team after posting a .278 batting average in 2016, which was the second best on the team. He also had a team-high 14 extra-base hits and even pitched 12.1 inniings with eight strikeouts.

The 2017 baseball season will start on the first weekend of February with Montana State Billings playing a series at Lewis-Clark State, while Concordia travels to UC San Diego on February 3. Central Washington and Western Oregon will start their seasons the following day with the Wolves hosting Corban in a double-header. Preseason favorite Northwest Nazarene will start its season on February 9 at Cal State L.A. and Saint Martin’s gets its season under way on February 17 with a four-game tournament at Dixie State.

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
GNAC Record
1. Northwest Nazarene (4) 30-21 23-15 (Tie 1st) 33
2. Western Oregon (1) 30-20 24-16 (3rd) 30
3. Central Washington (1) 31-23 23-17 (4th) 22
4. Montana State Billings 27-23 23-15 (Tie 1st) 21
5. Concordia 15-35 13-27 (5th) 10
  Saint Martin's 35-35 12-28 (6th) 10

Votes awarded on 6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.