Nighthawks Soar To First-Ever NCAA West Region Title
Northwest Nazarene won the West Regional title on its home field just eight days after claiming its second GNAC championship at home. Photo by Loren Orr.
Northwest Nazarene won the West Regional title on its home field just eight days after claiming its second GNAC championship at home. Photo by Loren Orr.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

NAMPA, Idaho – There’s no place like home.

A couple of big offensive innings powered Northwest Nazarene to a 12-6 victory over Western Oregon in the NCAA Division II West Regional championship game on Saturday at the Nighthawks’ own Vail Baseball Field in Nampa, Idaho.

After dropping their first game of the tournament against the Wolves on Thursday, the Nighthawks won three straight games to avoid elimination and earn the GNAC’s first-ever trip to the NCAA National Championships. They beat the Wolves in Friday’s nightcap to force Saturday’s winner-take-all title game.

Northwest Nazarene put up five runs in the first inning to set the tone. Freshman Grant Kerry singled to right field and junior center fielder Ryan Dearing came around to score on an error. Senior catcher Ben Johnson followed with a two-run single to right-center before senior first baseman John Gonzalez capped off the inning with a two-run home run to right-center.

Senior third baseman Shawn Grandmont drove in another run for the Nighthawks in the second with an RBI ground out to score Dearing from third. Grandmont also tacked on an insurance run in the sixth with a solo homer to left.

Western Oregon got on the board in the third as senior first baseman Connor McCord ripped a double to center to score junior shortstop Derek Maiben. McCord went 2 for 4 with a run scored, a walk and a pair of RBI.

Both teams had big fifth innings at the plate. The Nighthawks scored four more on a two-run homer to right by Gonzalez and another two-run shot to left by freshman second baseman Kyle Payne. Gonzalez went 2 for 5 in the game with the two homers while Payne went 2 for 4 with the two-run homer and a solo shot in the eighth.

The Wolves kept themselves in the game with a five-run fifth inning. McCord singled through the right side to drive in the first run before sophomore third baseman Justyn Herzog was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to bring in another. With the bases still loaded, junior catcher Anthony Zellner cleared the bases with a three-run double to left.

Northwest Nazarene starter, sophomore Shane Martin, allowed five earned runs on six hits with three walks and four strikeouts in 4.2 innings of work to take a no-decision. Freshman Joseph Ihli picked up the win after tossing two scoreless innings in relief with four strikeouts while freshman Kyle Ethridge shut the door with a pair of scoreless innings of his own, allowing just one hit.

Western Oregon senior Logan Hatley took the loss in the start after allowing six runs, five earned, on four hits with two walks. He exited the game after the first inning.

The Wolves end their season with a 22-8 overall record. They entered the West Regional as the No. 3 seed, earning an at-large bid after finishing GNAC play in second place with a 19-5 mark. The Wolves finished the regular season leading the conference in both batting average (.328) and on-base percentage (.423) while ranking second to the Nighthawks with a 4.56 earned run average.

The Nighthawks (34-8, 21-3 GNAC) claimed the West Region title just eight days after winning the GNAC Championships on their home field. They become the first team in GNAC history to advance to the NCAA Division II National Championships, which will be played on June 5-12 at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina.