GNAC Baseball Standings All Tied Up Heading Into Stretch
Central Washington was one of two teams to come up with a sweep last week and sits in a three-way tie for second in the GNAC standings. | Photo by Jacob Thompson/CWU Athletics
Central Washington was one of two teams to come up with a sweep last week and sits in a three-way tie for second in the GNAC standings. | Photo by Jacob Thompson/CWU Athletics

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

PORTLAND, Ore. – A busy week around the GNAC saw three teams draw level in a tie for second place in the conference standings while first-place Western Oregon sat idle.

Montana State Billings made the biggest waves, sweeping Saint Martin’s on the road to vault from fifth place into the heat of the postseason race and earn GNAC Team of the Week honors. Central Washington also came out of the week with a clean sweep against then-second-place Northwest Nazarene. It was the first week all season where two GNAC teams achieved a sweep.

The GNAC standings are too close to call heading into the penultimate week of the regular season. Western Oregon leads at the top with a 14-8 conference record. Montana State Billings is at 11-11 while Northwest Nazarene and Central Washington sit at 14-14 with all three teams sitting level with .500 winning percentages.

The Yellowjackets opened their series against the Saints with a pair of light-out pitching performances courtesy of sophomore Jackson Betancourt and junior Trevor Cassell on Saturday. The first start of the week went to Betancourt who threw a complete game and allowed just one unearned run on four hits with three strikeouts to lead MSUB to a 3-1 victory. Betancourt’s performance on the mound also earned him GNAC Baseball Pitcher of the Week honors.

Cassell threw a seven-inning shutout for the second time in as many starts in game two, allowing three hits and one walk while striking out three batters. Once again, Cassell’s greatest strength was forcing ground balls, earning 13 outs via his infielder’s play. He ranks fourth in the GNAC with 55 ground ball outs.

The Yellowjackets broke out the bats on Sunday, securing 13-1 and 7-4 wins to close out the series. Junior Payton Flynn led the way at the plate in the first half of the doubleheader, going 3 for 5 with three RBIs and a run scored with a home run and a walk. He finished a double shy of the cycle after hitting a solo home run in the second inning and an RBI triple in the eighth. Flynn finished the week 6 for 15 with five RBIs, three runs scored, a home run, a triple, two doubles and a pair of walks.

In the series finale, sophomore Jack Nehler put the Yellowjackets on the board early with a grand slam in the first inning. Nehler finished the game 1 for 2 with four RBIs, two runs scored and a walk. He finished the week with a .385 batting average with five hits, five RBIs, four runs scored and a walk.

Leading Saint Martin’s in the series at the plate was junior Mark Steward who finished the series 4 for 13 with a .308 batting average, two RBIs, a run scored, a double and a walk. Steward put together his best performance of the week in the series finale where he went 2 for 2 with a pair of RBIs and a run scored on a double and a walk.

On the mound for the Saints, junior Justice Yamashita went the distance in Saturday’s 2-0 loss. In seven innings, Yamashita allowed two runs on four hits and no walks while striking out seven batters. He threw 97 pitches and gave up just one extra-base hit to the best-hitting offense in the conference.

Central Washington also came through with a sweep against Northwest Nazarene last week. The Wildcats took 7-6 and 5-2 wins to open the series on Friday. They followed that up with 5-2 and 10-6 victories to close out the series on Saturday. Central Washington is one of two teams, along with NNU, that has just four games remaining in the regular season.

The Central Washington offense was led by GNAC Baseball Player of the Week Sam Lauderdale, who went 7 for 14 while slugging 1.071 with six RBIs and four runs scored on a double, two triples and a home run. In the second half of Friday’s doubleheader, Lauderdale went 2 for 3 with two RBIs and two runs scored, including a two-run home run in the sixth inning.

Senior Brayde Hirai led the way for CWU on the mound last week, picking up the win in Saturday’s 5-2 victory. Hirai allowed two runs, one earned, on seven hits while leading the GNAC for the week with seven strikeouts in 7.1 innings of work. He leads the conference with 60.2 innings pitched and ranks fourth with a 4.30 ERA.

Sophomore Travis Helm was the most consistent offensive presence at the plate for the Wildcats last week, leading the team with a .615 on base percentage. Helm finished the series 5 for 10 with five RBIs, four runs scored and three walks. On Saturday, Helm opened the day by going 1 for 2 with two RBIs and a walk. In the series finale, he went 1 for 1 with an RBI, two runs scored and drew a pair of walks.

Senior Duke Pahukoa was the top offensive threat for Northwest Nazarene last week. Pahukoa finished the series with a .429 batting average and a .500 on base percentage. He went 6 for 14 on the week with six RBIs, three runs scored, two walks, a double and a home run. Pahukoa put together one of his best performances in Saturday’s 10-6 loss, going 3 for 3 with four RBIs and a run scored with a walk and a double.

Senior Shane Martin led the Nighthawks on the mound with a 1.93 ERA through a pair of relief appearances. In Friday’s 7-6 loss, Martin threw 2.1 innings and allowed two runs, one earned, on one hit and a walk while striking out five. He followed that up with another 2.1 innings in Saturday’s 5-2 loss where he gave three unearned runs on two hits while striking out two batters.

Northwest Nazarene will return home for the final time of the regular season to host Saint Martin’s for doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday while Central Washington will host Lewis-Clark State College for a non-conference game on Wednesday.

After a week off of conference competition, Western Oregon will have a full week of baseball on the docket this week. The Wolves host a makeup game from earlier in the season against Montana State Billings on Thursday before facing the Yellowjackets in a pair of doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday.