Race Remains Wide Open In Final Weekend Of First Half
Northwest Nazarene outfielder Ryan Johnson helped lead the Crusaders to three wins, scoring the winning run in game two and driving in the eventual winner in game four.
Northwest Nazarene outfielder Ryan Johnson helped lead the Crusaders to three wins, scoring the winning run in game two and driving in the eventual winner in game four.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

CRUSADERS TAKE OVER TOP SPOT: Northwest Nazarene entered the week in second place, but with a chance to claim the top spot in the GNAC standings with a series win over first-place Central Washington. After falling in game one, the Crusaders rallied to win the final three games of the series to take sole possession of first place. The 3-1 weekend record bumped Northwest Nazarene up to 11-5 GNAC, 16-10 overall.

Not only did the Crusaders position themselves atop the conference, they were also recognized as the GNAC’s Red Lion Team of the Week for their efforts. Additionally, in the latest National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association West Region Poll, the Crusaders jumped into the top-10 for the first time, ranking No. 8 with 23 votes. They have been among those receiving votes in the poll for the last week, but with the series victory over No. 9 Central Washington, Northwest Nazarene finds itself among the top-10 this week.

The Wildcats got off to a hot start with a 9-3 victory in game one, looking well on their way to holding onto first place and grabbing another series victory. Catcher Benjamin Dunbar finished 3 for 5 with three runs batted, two runs scored and a home run. Outfielder Reid Martinez went 4 for 5 and designated hitter Jake Levin finished 2 for 3 with two RBI and two runs. Starting pitcher Travis Cook moved to 2-0 on the season, allowing three runs in six innings, striking out six.

After dropping game one, however, the Crusaders answered with a 2-1 victory behind another strong start from pitcher Colton Loomis. The senior threw a complete game, his fifth of the season, allowing just one run on four hits with six strikeouts. He advanced his record to 5-2 and lowered his earned run average to 1.32, second best in the GNAC.

The Crusaders needed all seven innings to grab the victory after remaining locked up 1-1 through six and a half innings. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, outfielder Ryan Johnson put himself in scoring position with a double. Catcher Andrew Helmstadter walked to set the table for the No. 3 hitter Tyler Davis. The senior second baseman answered the bell with a walk-off single up the middle, driving in Johnson. Davis also drove in Johnson in the fifth inning for the team’s only other run.

In game three, the offense took away all the drama as they scored nine runs through six innings. First baseman Brady Baker was a double away from the cycle, finishing 3 for 4 with four RBI, two runs scored, a home run and a triple. Starting pitcher Ross Clevenger threw 7.2 shutout innings, striking out seven batters and picking up his second win.

The final game of the series gave Northwest Nazarene a chance to jump into first place to end the week. In a back-and-forth affair, the Crusaders jumped out to a 4-0 lead through two innings. Johnson drove in two runs on a second-inning double to extend the lead to four.

Central Washington responded, however, with five runs in the third and fourth innings to take a 5-4 lead. Shortstop Tucker Campbell tied the ballgame up with a single in the fifth inning and Johnson hit his third double of the game to drive in the eventual game-winning run in the sixth. The senior outfielder and Crusader leadoff hitter was named the GNAC Baseball Player of the Week after finishing 7 for 16 at the dish, with four doubles and five RBI.

YELLOWJACKETS SURGE TO COMEBACK SERIES WIN: The battle between GNAC Champions Western Oregon and Montana State Billings was rain-shortened, but still provided plenty of dramatic moments and impressive performances in three games. The final game of the four-game series is scheduled to be made up when the Yellowjackets travel to Monmouth, Ore. The teams will play five games on the WOU Baseball Field.

For the fourth straight series, Western Oregon won game one thanks to another stellar pitching performance by Brady Miller. The sophomore has baffled hitters all season long, holding them to a league low .131 batting average. Miller leads the GNAC with a 5-0 record and 0.70 ERA. He pitched 5.2 innings against MSUB, allowing no runs while walking and striking out six batters.

The Wolves continued to hit their best in game ones this season, providing Miller with plenty of run support each start. They opened the game with four runs in the first two innings, led by first baseman Nick Snyder’s three-run home run in the first inning. Western Oregon closed out the ball game with a 10-0 victory, their highest scoring output of the season.

In game two, the Yellowjackets trailed on two difference occasions, but each time came back to reclaim the lead. After allowing four runs in the top of the fifth, Montana State Billings answered with four runs of their own to take a 6-4 lead, led by designated hitter Adam Cox’s two-run double. Western Oregon then took the lead back with three runs in the top of the seventh, leaving the Yellowjackets just a half inning to make a comeback. Trailing 7-6, shortstop Corey Morris drove in Cox for the tying run on a sacrifice fly. After two walks and an error, third baseman Kyle Durbin worked a two-out walk-off base on balls to send the Yellowjackets off in victory. Cox earned his second win of the season in relief after starting pitcher Tanner Johnson struck out 10 batters in 6.1 innings.

In the final game of the series on Sunday, the game remained scoreless through five innings. Western Oregon got on the board first with a run in the top of the sixth, but after that is was all Yellowjackets as they went on to win 6-1. Durbin finished 3 for 4 with two RBI, a double and a home run. Starting pitcher Cody Cooper advanced to 5-0 on the season, allowing one run in eight innings. He threw 142 pitches in the outing, receiving the GNAC Pitcher of the Week award for his gutsy effort. The Yellowjackets advanced their record to 7-8 in GNAC play, 13-11 overall and sit in third place.

STAYING IN THE RACE WITH A SPLIT: Concordia and Saint Martin’s battled their way to a four-game series split, each remaining in position for a playoff run with just over half the season remaining.

The Cavaliers enter the week with a 6-8 record in conference and in fourth place, while Saint Martin’s is just a game back at 5-9 and in sixth place. Each team is less than two games out of the third and final playoff spot as a berth to the GNAC Championships is still up for grabs.

Concordia hosts first place Northwest Nazarene this week, with the series beginning on Friday. The Saints will also be at home, taking on Montana State Billings on Saturday and Sunday.


Ryan Johnson, Northwest Nazarene
OF • 6-1 • Senior • Boise, Idaho

Johnson finished the week 7 for 16 with four doubles and five runs batted in. He had the game-winning RBI in the Crusaders’ 6-5 victory over Central Washington in game four. He finished 3 for 3 with three doubles in the series-deciding game. ALSO NOMINATED: Konner Reddick (Concordia), Jake Huskey (Saint Martin’s), Kyle Durbin (Montana State Billings).

Cody Cooper, Montana State Billings
RHP • 6-4 • Junior • Bozeman, Mont.

Cooper turned in his gutsiest start of the season, throwing 142 pitches through eight innings and limiting Western Oregon to one run in a 6-1 victory. Cooper had six strikeouts to push his GNAC-leading total to 48 on the year, and the right-hander remained perfect at 5-0 with a 2.56 earned run average. ALSO NOMINATED: Ross Clevenger (Northwest Nazarene), Nick Mailhot (Saint Martin’s), Austin Hadley (Concordia).