Up For Grabs: No Clear Favorite In GNAC Championships
Northwest Nazarene will host the GNAC Championships for the first time, led by starting pitcher Colton Loomis.
Northwest Nazarene will host the GNAC Championships for the first time, led by starting pitcher Colton Loomis.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. – With the host site, tournament seedings and the conference regular season champions not decided until the final game, the 2016 GNAC Baseball Championships will be open for the taking.

The three team tournament will be played at the Vail Baseball Field on the campus of Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, on May 12 and 13. The host Crusaders will be the No. 1 seed, followed by No. 2 Montana State Billings and No. 3 Western Oregon. The field features the same three teams from 2015 when Western Oregon took the title in Billings, Mont.

Northwest Nazarene and Montana State Billings shared co-GNAC regular season champion honors after tying at 23-15 with a .605 winning percentage in GNAC play. The regular season title is the first for the Crusaders and second in as many years for the Yellowjackets.

The Crusaders earned a share of the GNAC regular season title and hosting rights after sweeping Concordia in the final series of the season. They are led into the postseason by a bruising lineup that paced the GNAC with 40 home runs. Senior second baseman Tyler Davis has provided the most power in the GNAC, leading the conference in home runs (14) and ranking second in RBI (40). He hit .328 on the season and had a GNAC best .623 slugging percentage with 26 extra base hits. Davis is also a semifinalist for the D2 Baseball News Tino Martinez Award, honoring the top Division II player in the nation.

Senior outfielder Ryan Johnson consistently sparked the Crusaders’ lineup from the leadoff spot, scoring a team high 42 runs with a .376 batting average, six home runs, four triples, 12 doubles and a GNAC-high 18 stolen bases. His .602 slugging percentage was also second in the conference only to Davis. Junior catcher and third baseman Andrew Helmstadter provided an offensive and defensive boost, hitting .331 with 16 doubles, three home runs and 35 RBI. He also threw out just under 25 percent of base stealers while he was behind the plate.

On the mound, senior right hander Colton Loomis proved he could be the most dominating pitcher in the GNAC on any given day. The highlight of his season came early on in non-conference play, when he threw a seven-inning no-hitter against one of the top West Region opponents, Azusa Pacific. Loomis finished the regular season with a 6-5 record and 61 strikeouts in 81.2 innings pitched. Junior Jaramy Jacobs and sophomore Ross Clevenger were also key starters for the Crusaders this season. Jacobs led the team with 82.2 innings pitched and 73 strikeouts, while Clevenger recorded a 5-2 record and 4.87 ERA.

Montana State Billings enters the tournament as the hottest team in the GNAC, winning six straight and 11 of its last 12 games to not only earn a berth in the GNAC Championships, but also claim a share of its second straight regular season title. The Yellowjackets are led into the tournament by a balanced lineup and some high end pitchers that can take over any given game.

Senior third baseman Kyle Durbin leads the GNAC regular season with a .387 batting average and is ranked third in hits (63). He is also fifth in runs scored (41) and third in walks (26). Durbin hit second in the Yellowjackets’ lineup behind senior outfielder Luke Reinschmidt. The Yellowjackets’ leadoff hitter was also the team’s best power hitter, leading the GNAC with 43 RBI and ranking second with nine home runs. Reinschmidt hit .326 and ranked third in the conference in runs with 46.

Sophomore pitcher and designated hitter Adam Cox proved to be one of the most versatile players in the conference this season. Not only was Cox a dangerous threat as the team’s No. 3 hitter, he was also the team’s closer, recording five saves. On the mound, Cox struck out 37 batters in 27.1 innings and finished with a 3.95 ERA and 6-1 record. At the plate, he enjoyed even more success, hitting .362 with seven home runs, 42 RBI and 34 runs scored.

The starting rotation is led by junior right hander Cody Cooper, who is fourth in the league with a 2.87 ERA. Cooper led the conference with 91 innings pitched and 99 strikeouts as the junior consistently went deep into ball games for the Yellowjackets. Senior right handed pitcher Tanner Johnson helped form a dominant duo with Cooper, finishing 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA on the season with 71 strikeouts in 71 innings.

Western Oregon enters the tournament as the No. 3 seed despite leading the conference in both total runs scored (319) and runs allowed (175). The Wolves pitching staff was dominant through the season, especially in the first half. As the weather warmed up, so did the bats as the Wolves finished with a 24-16 record and a .600 winning percentage. As the No. 2 seed in 2015, the Wolves won the GNAC Championships with three straight victories after dropping the first game of the tournament.

Sophomore right handed pitcher Brady Miller finished the regular season with a GNAC best 9-2 record. He posted a 3.27 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 74.1 innings pitched. The Wolves used a three-headed pitching attack with Miller and seniors Darrien Moran and Garrett Alvarez. Moran finished third in the GNAC with a 2.82 ERA and 5-3 record. The senior was the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association West Region Pitcher of the Week in back-to-back weeks after posting consecutive nine-inning shutouts. Alvarez finished with an unblemished 6-0 record in 10 starts, with a 67.2 innings pitched and a 3.46 ERA.

Senior transfer Trevor Podratz jumped into an immediate impact role for the Wolves, leading the team in batting average (.381), doubles (15) and hits (61). The University of Hawaii transfer also hit five home runs, drove in 37 and scored 30 runs. Senior third baseman Kyle Vanderkin paced the team with seven home runs, six triples and 40 RBI, hitting .339 with 34 runs scored. The Wolves’ lineup was one of the deepest in the conference with six batters with over 100 at-bats hitting above .300 and eight players with 25 or more runs scored.  

The GNAC Baseball Championships begin on Thur., May 11 at noon Mountain time with No. 2 Montana State Billings facing No. 3 Western Oregon. Northwest Nazarene will then play Western Oregon at 3:30 p.m. MT, followed by Northwest Nazarene and Montana State Billings at 7 p.m. MT.

If the three teams are tied at 1-1 after Thursday’s round-robin portion of the tournament, NNU will advance to Friday’s championship game at 4:30 p.m. MT by virtue of being the No. 1 seed. MSUB and WOU would play an elimination game Friday at 1 p.m. for the right to advance to the final.

If just two teams remain after the round-robin portion of the tourney, they will play Game 4 Friday at 1 p.m., with Game 5 to follow 30 minutes later if necessary. Live stats and video of all games can be found at GNAC.tv.