Diamond Days On The Horizon: NNU Is Preseason Favorite
Senior infielder Duke Pahukoa was one of NNU's top players last season, htting .293 with a .527 slugging percentage to go with nine home runs.
Senior infielder Duke Pahukoa was one of NNU's top players last season, htting .293 with a .527 slugging percentage to go with nine home runs.

Friday, January 20, 2023

PORTLAND, Ore. – Northwest Nazarene is predicted to finish the 2023 GNAC baseball season in the same place it rounded out 2022: At the top.

The Nighthawks are the unanimous pick to repeat as regular-season champions in the 2023 GNAC Preseason Baseball Coaches Poll with 25 points and all five first-place votes. After finishing as regular season co-champion and beating NNU in the GNAC Championships, Western Oregon is selected to finish second this year with 18 points.

Central Washington is predicted to make strides toward improving after a fifth-place finish last season and is tied for third in the poll with 2022 third-place finisher Montana State Billings with 12 points. Saint Martin’s rounds out the polling in an expected fifth-place finish with eight points.

Northwest Nazarene will return to the diamond with high hopes after making a run to the second round of the NCAA West Regional in 2022 with an overall record of 31-23 (21-11 GNAC). The Nighthawks bring back 17 total players from last season, including three starting pitchers and four starting position players. Among the returners is 2022 First Team All-GNAC infielder Duke Pahukoa. The senior out of Maui, Hawaii returns to the field on the back of a season where he tied for fourth in the conference with nine home runs while slugging .527.

Coming back to defend the outfield will be Second Team All-GNAC senior Tyler Best. Best was a reliable bat in his first season for NNU where he owned a .272 batting average with 22 RBIs. Of his 47 hits, 14 went for extra bases, including a pair of home runs. His power was something opposing pitchers had to avoid, resulting in Best drawing 20 walks.

Senior pitcher Brock Moffitt will toe the rubber for the Nighthawks again this season, following up a 2022 campaign where he ranked fifth in the GNAC with 63 strikeouts. Moffitt finished last year with a 4.67 ERA through 52 innings of work with 10 starts. He was one of just six pitchers in the conference to throw a complete game last season.

The Nighthawks will look to maintain their pitching strength despite the loss of First Team All-GNAC pitchers Haden Keller, Max Holtzclaw and Blake McFadden. Head coach Joe Schaefer will look toward transfers Manny Casillas out of Cal State Northridge and Jonathan Zayas out of Arizona Western to be key parts of the rotation alongside freshmen Dylan Plutner and Wade Duncan.

As a team, Northwest Nazarene led the GNAC with 55 home runs, 744 total bases and 1,710 total at-bats. The Nighthawks’ pitching staff also led the conference in strikeouts per game (6.44) total batters struck out (490), batters struck out looking (137) and saves (16).

Western Oregon takes to the field in 2023 as the reigning GNAC champion on the back of steady defense and lights-out pitching last season. The Wolves finished last year with a 34-20 overall record (21-11 GNAC) and returns four starting position players. Western Oregon will look to last season’s GNAC Pitcher of the Year Arturo Alvarez to lead the team from the bump as the sole returning starting pitcher after leading the conference with a 3.18 ERA.

In his first season for WOU after transferring from Los Angeles Harbor College, Alvarez was named First Team All-GNAC and Newcomer of the Year, First Team D2CCA, ABCA First Team All-West Region and Second Team NCBWA All-West Region. In 13 starts, Alvarez finished the 2022 campaign with a 7-2 record. He struck out 52 batters in 70.2 innings of work and held opponents to a .221 batting average.

Western Oregon also returns their top offensive threats from last season in the Maiben brothers. Senior outfielder Jacob Maiben was the leading bat for the Wolves last season, hitting .330 with a .449 on-base percentage and a .401 slugging percentage while starting all but one game he played in. His performances last season earned him First Team All-GNAC recognition. Jacob Maiben was tied for the second in the conference with 30 walks and showed that he can make even a free base more painful with 20 stolen bases to tie for the GNAC lead with Derek Maiben.

Derek Maiben was second only to his brother for WOU last season, hitting .308 with a .391 on-base percentage and  a .401 slugging percentage with 53 starts to his name and to earn Honorable Mention All-GNAC recognition. The senior infielder ranked sixth in the conference with a .345 batting average with runners on base. He made those at-bats count, knocking in 35 RBIs to tie for seventh in the GNAC.

As a team, Western Oregon led the conference in stolen bases per game (1.24), earned run average (3.89), opposing batting average (.243), innings pitched (449), wins (34), least hits allowed (414), least runs allowed (223), least earned runs allowed (194), least doubles allowed (63), least triples allowed (7) and least home runs allowed (27).

Central Washington is expected to make upward moves after finishing last season at the bottom of the GNAC standings with an 8-24 conference record (14-35 overall). The Wildcats will have a good chance to build on last season, returning the most starters of any team in the conference with 10 players coming back, including two 2022 First Team-All GNAC honorees.

Senior outfielder Adam Fahsel leads the returning players as the reigning GNAC Player of the Year. An ABCA First Team-All West Region selection, his .351 batting average ranked second in the conference. Fahsel led the GNAC with a .580 slugging percentage on the back of 17 doubles, one triple and eight home runs with 44 RBIs.

Fellow All-GNAC First Teamer Austin Ohland returns for CWU after leading the GNAC with 51 RBIs. The junior catcher also led the conference and ranked seventh in Division II with 23 doubles. For the season, Ohland had a batting average of .289, a .374 on-base percentage and a .533 slugging percentage. He tied for fourth in the conference with nine home runs. 

Honorable Mention All-GNAC pitcher Ryan Arredondo returns for his sophomore season after making 11 starts in 13 appearances last season. Arredondo ranked 10th in the GNAC as a freshman with a 5.52 ERA through 62 innings of work. His opponents’ combined batting average of .267 ranked sixth in the GNAC and suggests that his second season on the bump could be even stronger than his freshman outing.

As a team, Central Washington led the conference in batting average (.299), slugging percentage (.450), on-base percentage (.387), hits (489), doubles (113), hits per game (9.98), runs scored per game (6.73), doubles per game (2.31) at-bats per game (33.43) and plate appearances per game (39.27).

Montana State Billings is predicted to have an equal opportunity to repeat as third-place finishers after ending 2022 with a 16-16 GNAC record (26-27 overall). The Yellowjackets return five starting position players, including First Team All-GNAC and Second Team NCBWA All-West Region first baseman Mitch Winter. The sophomore tied for second in the conference with 10 home runs. For the season, Winter hit .259 with an on-base percentage of .378 while slugging .563 in 112 at-bats with his 34 RBIs good for 11th in the GNAC.

Sophomore Jackson Betancourt is the lone returning starting pitcher for MSUB. Betancourt made 10 starts for the Yellowjackets last season, finishing with an 8.33 ERA and 29 strikeouts through 35.2 innings of work. Head coach Derek Waddoups will look toward a trio of transfers to bolster the pitching staff in senior Daniel Naughton out of Gonzaga, sophomore Andy Evans out of Spokane Falls Community College and sophomore Hunter Smith out of Salt Lake Community College.

In addition to refilling the bullpen, the Yellowjackets will look to fill the gap a shortstop left by the departure of 2022 GNAC Freshman of the Year and First Team All-GNAC honoree Cooper Dulich, who made the move to Division I Creighton. Sophomore shortstop transfer Zack Blaszack comes to Billings from Salt Lake Community College along with Smith and could provide a solution for MSUB between second and third.

As a team, Montana State Billings led the conference in runs scored (352), RBIs (325), triples (18), strikeouts (453), batting average with bases loaded (.342), batting average with runners in scoring position (.317), triples per game (0.34), RBIs per game (6.13) and runners picked off (9).

Saint Martin’s rounds out the poll after finishing fourth last season with a GNAC record of 14-18 (19-30 overall). The Saints bring back three starting position players, led by junior outfielder Reid Little. He made 39 starts for SMU last season and owned a batting average of  .279 with a .365 on-base percentage and a .368 slugging percentage through 136 at-bats. Little accounted for 25 RBIs, the second most on the team and the most of any returning player on the roster.

Junior infielder Michael Yamaguchi will be looking to make an even bigger impact this season after playing in 21 games with 11 starts last season. Through 42 at-bats, Yamaguchi hit .357 with a .460 on-base percentage and an impressive .500 slugging percentage. He knocked in nine RBIs while recording two home runs.

On the mound, First Team All-GNAC pitcher Justice Yamashita returns after posting a 6-4 record through 11 starts for the Saints in 2022. Yamashita finished his sophomore season with the No. 4 ranked ERA in the conference at 3.68. He also led the GNAC with five complete games. Yamashita ranked third in the conference with an opponent batting average of .225 and 71 strikeouts.

The 2023 GNAC Baseball season is set to begin on Feb. 3 when Western Oregon hits the road to face Fresno Pacific. The conference season will open on Friday, Mar. 3 with Western Oregon hosting Northwest Nazarene for a double-header in Monmouth.

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) 2022
GNAC Record
1. Northwest Nazarene (5) 31-23 21-11 (T-1st) 25
2. Western Oregon 34-20 21-11 (T-1st) 18
T-3. Central Washington 14-35 8-24 (5th) 12
T-3. Montana State Billings 26-27 16-16 (3rd) 12
5. Saint Martin's 19-30 14-18 (4th) 8