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Play Ball: GNAC Looks To Build Early-Season Momentum
Concordia begins the season on the road this weekend, visiting Lewis-Clark State for a doubleheader on Saturday. The Cavs finish the series with a game scheduled for Sunday.
Concordia begins the season on the road this weekend, visiting Lewis-Clark State for a doubleheader on Saturday. The Cavs finish the series with a game scheduled for Sunday.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

TOUGH START FOR THE GNAC: Last week, the two GNAC teams in action went a combined 1-4 against non-conference opposition. Northwest Nazarene dropped its opening two contests against Stanislaus State before earning a 10-8 win on Friday.

Senior Casey Sheehan led the Nighthawks as he batted .364 over the three games. In the win on Sunday, Sheehan collected two hits and an RBI, reaching base three times. In 3.1 innings of relief during the weekend, junior Greg Casper limited Stanislaus State to no hits while striking out four batters.

Central Washington was the other GNAC team to open its non-conference slate last weekend. The Wildcats visited NAIA powerhouse Lewis-Clark State for a doubleheader on Saturday, but was unable to snatch a victory.

Senior Jimmy Smith led the Wildcats batting .444 with two doubles and two runs. Despite going 0 for 4 in game one, Smith exploded in the second game of the ‘Cats doubleheader with four hits for six total bases.

All six GNAC teams are in action this weekend, as Montana State Billings, Central Washington, Northwest Nazarene and Western Oregon all feature tonight on the road. Concordia joins the Yellowjackets, Nighthawks, Wolves and Wildcats on Saturday’s GNAC slate while Saint Martin’s opens its season on Sunday at Hawaii Hilo.

WOLVES IN THE RANKINGS: In the latest edition of the NCBWA Preseason Division II West Region Poll, Western Oregon is the lone GNAC team included at No. 7 with 25 points. The conference did receive more recognition, however, as Central Washington (6), Montana State Billings (3) and Northwest Nazarene (2) were among five teams that received votes.

WESTERN OREGON PICKED TO REPEAT AS CHAMPIONS: After capturing both the regular season title and GNAC championship last year, Western Oregon is picked yet again to win the conference in the 2018 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Baseball Preseason Coaches Poll.

The Wolves received two first-place votes to finish with 30 points in the poll. Western Oregon clinched the regular season by 4.5 games and outscored opponents 26-10 in the GNAC Championships to claim its 14th conference title in program history.

Closely behind the Wolves is Montana State Billings, a team that won 23 games under first-year head coach Aaron Sutton. Picked second with 29 points, the Yellowjackets are one of four teams to receive a first-place vote. Montana State Billings tied for third last season and went 0-2 in the conference tournament. Central Washington is picked third with 24 points while Northwest Nazarene is picked fourth (21 points).

Rounding out the coaches poll was Saint Martin’s (fifth, 16 pts.) and Concordia (sixth, 7 pts.).

For the second season in a row, the GNAC Championships will include four teams after being a three-team tournament up until the 2017 season. The GNAC Championships will be hosted by Central Washington on May 10-11 in Ellensburg, Wash. This will be the first time in the tournament’s six-year history that the Wildcats will host the event.

THIS WEEK'S GNAC PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Player
Haden Keller, Northwest Nazarene
OF • 5-11 • Fr. • Minden, Nev.

Keller provided the go-ahead two-run home run in the seventh inning of his third collegiate game and then had a big defensive play as he made a catch to rob Stanislaus State of a potential three-run homer to help lead the Nighthawks to a 10-8 win over the Warriors to conclude a three-game season-opening series.

Also Nominated: Jaden Hassell (Central Washington).

AROUND THE GNAC
CENTRAL WASHINGTON

• Central Washington had a tough opening week, going 0-2 against Lewis-Clark State in the doubleheader. The Wildcats suffered 10-1 and 11-5 defeats on Saturday.

• Senior Jimmy Smith led the Wildcats batting .444 with two doubles and two runs. Despite going 0 for 4 in game one, Smith exploded in the second game of the ‘Cats doubleheader with four hits for six total bases.

• Senior Christopher Dalto also had a solid weekend, recording three hits in seven at-bats. He earned two of those hits in the second game.

• Senior Seth Pedersen was the lone bright spot for Central Washington’s pitching staff, logging two innings of hitless ball with three strikeouts.

• The Wildcats head to California this weekend to take on Academy of Art in a pair of doubleheaders.

CONCORDIA
• Concordia kicks off the 2018 season with a four-game series against NAIA powerhouse Lewis-Clark State this weekend.

• Picked sixth, Concordia (13-27, 15-35 GNAC) is hoping that its nine returning position starters and a heavy recruiting class can take the Cavs to their first GNAC Championships appearance since joining the conference in 2016. Juniors Mitch Bevacqua and Eddie Vasquez were Honorable Mention All-GNAC selections and look to pace the Cavaliers’ offense. Bevacqua hit .284 for five home runs and scored 22 runs while Vasquez batted .298 with 16 RBI and 28 runs. Concordia looks to bolster its roster for the next two seasons with 11 transfers and three freshmen.

MONTANA STATE BILLINGS
• Montana State Billings opens the season today with a trip to St. George, Utah to take on No. 19 Dixie State. The Yellowjackets turn around for two contests against Cal State San Bernardino and Dixie State on Friday before closing the weekend with a rubber match with the Trailblazers on Saturday.

• Montana State Billings (23-29, 21-19) finished the 2017 regular season tied for third, but return the most starters out of the six GNAC teams. The Yellowjackets finished the regular season strong, winning nine of their last 11 games heading into the GNAC Championships. Despite the loss of four All-GNAC players, the Yellowjackets bring in a plethora of reinforcements, including nine transfers.

NORTHWEST NAZARENE
• Northwest Nazarene opened the season by going 1-2, collecting a 10-8 win over Stanislaus State on Saturday after dropping its first two contests.

• Freshman Haden Keller was named the GNAC Player of the Week after he provided the go-ahead two-run home run in the seventh inning of his third collegiate game. He then had a big defensive play as he made a catch to rob Stanislaus State of a potential three-run homer to help lead the Nighthawks to the win.

• Senior Casey Sheehan led the Nighthawks as he batted .364 over the three games. In the win on Sunday, Sheehan collected two hits and an RBI, reaching base three times.

• In 3.1 innings of relief during the weekend, junior Greg Casper allowed no hits while striking out four batters.

• The Nighthawks continue their nine-game road trip with a series against Chico State this weekend.

SAINT MARTIN’S
• Saint Martin’s starts 2018 with one game this week, as it visits Hawaii Hilo on Sunday.

• Picked to finish fifth in the GNAC this year, Saint Martin’s (17-30, 14-25 GNAC) brings back a strong core that consists of six position starters and five starting pitchers. Senior outfielder Steven Sordahl was a Second Team All-GNAC pick and is the Saints’ top returning hitter with a .348 average in 42 games, 55 hits and 23 RBI. The trio of Aaron Shoup, Luke Hare and Adam Eskil look to build upon a season in which all three were named to the All-GNAC team. Shoup went 5-3 in 12 starts with a 4.60 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 76.1 innings while Hare compiled a 3-3 record in 36.2 innings and a 1.96 ERA.

WESTERN OREGON
• Western Oregon begins its 2018 campaign in California this week. The Wolves head down to Azusa, Calif., taking on Biola tonight before taking on No. 13 Azusa Pacific in a doubleheader on Saturday.

• Western Oregon (31-15) re-claimed the GNAC title last season after ending 2016 in second place. Despite hitting a rough patch midway through the 2017 campaign, the Wolves bounced back to win six straight games in early April to edge Central Washington for the regular season title. Western Oregon has won the GNAC title in three of the past five seasons. The Wolves opened up the year ranked No. 7 in the NCBWA Division II West Region Preseason Poll.

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