Western Oregon Picked To Reclaim Regular Season Title
Western Oregon did not claim its 14th straight regular season title last season, but did win its second GNAC Championship in three years.
Western Oregon did not claim its 14th straight regular season title last season, but did win its second GNAC Championship in three years.
Montana State Billings won its first GNAC regular season title in 2015 with a 22-10 conference record.
Montana State Billings won its first GNAC regular season title in 2015 with a 22-10 conference record.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. – Western Oregon may have lost out on its 14th straight GNAC regular season title last season, but still grabbed another overall conference title after winning the third annual GNAC Baseball Championships.

The Wolves have been picked by the coaches to win the title once again in the 2016 GNAC Baseball Preseason Poll, receiving 35 of a possible 36 points.

After falling in their opening game of the tournament against Northwest Nazarene, the Wolves rolled off three straight victories to grab the championship. Western Oregon ended the season with a 29-24 overall record and second in the GNAC regular season standings at 21-11. Leading into the season, the Wolves were selected No. 7 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association West Region Preseason Poll on Jan. 25.

While the Wolves lost GNAC Pitcher of the Year Jesse Pratt, they return a deep pitching staff led by GNAC Freshman of the Year Brady Miller. In 36.2 innings pitched as predominantly a reliever, Miller finished with a 1.72 earned run average and 41 strikeouts. Over the summer, Miller was also named the West Coast League Pitcher of the Year after finishing 6-0 with a 2.18 earned run average in seven starts with the Kelowna Falcons. Also returning for the WOU pitching staff is First Team All-GNAC reliever Shawn Domke and Second Team All-GNAC starting pitchers Garrett Alvarez and Darrien Moran. Domke recorded four saves, 32 strikeouts and a 2.52 ERA in 35.2 innings. Moran finished the season 5-5 with a 3.61 ERA and Alvarez was 6-2 with a 4.38 ERA.

Offensively, the Wolves bring back First Team All-GNAC first baseman Nathan Etheridge and second team outfielder Cody Sullivan. Etheridge hit .292 as a junior in 171 at-bats, driving in 22 runs and scoring 25. Sullivan had a breakout season as a junior for the Wolves, hitting .324 with 34 RBI and two home runs. Sullivan was joined by Alvarez and Miller on the NCBWA Preseason All-West Region Second Team. The team loses a large portion of the starting lineup, however, including third baseman Garret Harpole, shortstop Marcus Hinkle, second baseman Jake Whisler and outfielder Matt Taylor. Harpole led the team last season with nine home runs and 41 runs batted in and Taylor had the team’s highest batting average, hitting at a .371 clip.

Montana State Billings was picked second in the GNAC Preseason Baseball Coaches Poll with 24 points after winning its first GNAC regular season title in 2015. The Yellowjackets finished the regular season 27-23 overall, 22-10 in GNAC play, but fell in their first two games in the championship tournament. They were led by the conference’s top offense, batting .312 as a team with 40 home runs and 357 runs scored.

Coming off winning the GNAC Coach of the Year award, Rob Bishop will enter the season with the offense looking to pick up where it left off in 2015. Senior outfielder Luke Reinschmidt, a First Team All-GNAC and all-region selection, led the Yellowjackets with a .370 batting average, four triples and 11 steals. He was also second on the team with 10 home runs and 56 RBI. Also returning is First Team All-GNAC shortstop Corey Morris, and all-conference outfielders Casey Merritt and Myles Berkram. Reinschmidt was named to the NCBWA All-America Second Team. Reinschmidt and Morris were selected to the NCBWA All-West Region First Team. The Yellowjackets lost the GNAC Player of the Year in Brody Miller, who led the conference with 14 home runs and 59 RBI last season.

Tanner Johnson highlights the group of returning pitchers for the Yellowjackets. A transfer from Salt Lake CC, Johnson was named First Team All-GNAC. The senior led the team with a 6-1 record and a 3.99 ERA in 11 starts. The team loses First Team All-GNAC pitcher Brady Muller, who paced the team with 79 strikeouts in 79 innings pitched, and Jake Mills who was a second teamer in 2014.

Central Washington and Northwest Nazarene tied for third in the preseason poll with 22 points each. The Wildcats received one first place vote after finishing in fourth place in 2015, just one game out of a playoff spot with a 14-18 conference record. Central was second in the GNAC with a .295 batting average.

The Wildcats return First Team All-GNAC selection and co-Newcomer of the Field outfielder Darren Honeysett. Honeysett led the team in 2015 with seven home runs and 44 runs scored while hitting .350 with 37 RBI. Second Team All-GNAC shortstop Jonathan Dailey returns after hitting .322. Dailey was selected to the NCBWA Preseason All-West Region Second Team. The Wildcats will have to fill the loss of First Team All-GNAC utility man Kasey Bielec, who led the GNAC hitting .409.

Pitcher Mitch Yada returns for his junior season after finishing 2015 with a 4.08 ERA, three complete games and one shutout. The All-GNAC Honorable Mention selection will lead the Wildcat starting rotation that lost its top two innings-eaters in Zach Johnson and Cory Welch. Johnson led Central Washington with a 3.68 ERA in 78.1 innings. Welch threw 67.2 innings, leading the team with 56 strikeouts along with seven saves out of the bullpen.

Northwest Nazarene finished the 2015 regular season campaign in third place at 15-17, 29-28 overall. The Crusaders were one game away from the tournament title, but fell to Western Oregon on the final day. The Crusaders scored the second most runs (305) in the conference last season while owning the second lowest earned run average (4.88). With a large returning class, the team could be poised for another trip to the conference tournament.

Offensively, the Crusaders return all three 2015 First Team All-GNAC honorees, including outfielder Josh Hatfield, second baseman Tyler Davis and catcher Andrew Helmstadter. Hatfield led the team with a .352 batting average, 49 runs scored and 12 stolen bases. Davis, the GNAC co-Newcomer of the Year, launched nine home runs with 22 doubles and 37 RBI in his first season in the conference. Helmstadter had a team high 40 RBI and seven triples with a .319 batting average. Davis was selected to the NCBWA Preseason All-West Region First Team while Hatfield and Helmstadter were named to the second team. The Crusaders lose Kyle Thompson, who hit .383 in 128 at bats, along with Kaleb DeHaas and Tate Glasgow.

On the mound, Northwest Nazarene returns two All-GNAC Honorable Mention selections in Colton Loomis and Blake Mitchell. Loomis finished with a 6-2 record in 22 total appearances, seven of which came as a starter. Mitchell struck out 55 batters in 73.2 innings with a 5-5 record. The Crusaders lose their two pitchers with the most innings pitched in 2015 in Jake Reppert and Colben McGuire. Reppert led the team with a 3.56 ERA, while McGuire pitched 91.1 innings.

Concordia enters the GNAC for its first season, ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll with 14 points. The Cavaliers placed second last season in the Cascade Collegiate Conference with a 19-9 conference record and 32-23 overall. The team was led by a dominant pitching staff in 2015 that finished with a 3.53 ERA and 389 strikeouts compared to 148 walks.

On the mound, Austin Hadley is back for the Cavaliers after pitching 63.2 innings with a 2.12 ERA. The senior also led the team with 10 saves while throwing two complete games in four starts. Senior Harrison McGhee returns for his senior season after redshirting in 2015. The Cavaliers lose Jason Snodgrass who led the team with 87.1 innings pitched. They also lose Blake Evetts who had a 9-1 record with a 2.95 ERA in 12 starts.

Concordia hit .281 with six home runs in 2015, playing half their games in the large confines of Porter Park. The lineup returns four of nine starters from 2015 led by outfielder Trent Calmer, who hit .367 last season in 79 at-bats. Joining Calmer is fellow outfielder Konner Reddick, who hit .293 with 24 RBI. The Cavaliers lost catcher Nate Esposito and infielder Ian Erickson. Esposito was drafted in the 33rd round of the MLB Entry Draft by the Kansas City Royals after hitting .338 with 32 runs batted in, while Erickson hit .344 in 154 at-bats.

Saint Martin’s enters the poll picked sixth after finishing in fifth place in 2015 with an 8-24 overall record. The Saints return four position starters, but will have a turnover in the starting rotation. Adam Eskil and Kaelen Hirashiki headline the list of returns for Saint Martin’s. Eskil hit .269 for the Saints with 1 home run, 15 RBI and 15 runs scored. Hirashiki hit .267, leading the team with six stolen bases. The team loses First Team All-GNAC catcher Chandler Tracy, who hit .355 with 12 home runs and 35 runs batted in.

Torin Dooley started three games for the Saints, with a 2.95 ERA over 42.2 innings pitched. The team brings in freshman pitchers Mickey Walker and Aaron Shoup to help replenish the depth on the staff after losing Honorable Mention All-GNAC pitchers Josh Moss and Zach Carter. Moss had a 4.54 ERA over 69.1 innings in 11 starts. Carter led the team with 82.1 innings pitched and 55 strikeouts.

The 2016 season begins with Western Oregon visiting Azusa Pacific on Thur., Feb. 4. All six GNAC teams will be in action by Sat., Feb. 13. The conference season starts up on Fri., March 4 with Saint Martin’s hosting Northwest Nazarene and Montana State Billings visiting Central Washington.

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
GNAC Record
1. Western Oregon (5) 29-24 21-11 (2nd) 35
2. Montana State Billings 27-23 22-10 (1st) 24
3. Central Washington (1) 24-25 14-18 (4th) 22
  Northwest Nazarene 29-28 15-17 (3rd) 22
5. Concordia 32-23 First Year In GNAC 14
6. Saint Martin's 16-34 8-24 (5th) 9

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