2024 GNAC Baseball Championships Preview
No. 1 seed Northwest Nazarene comes into the 2024 GANC Baseball Championships in Billings, Mont., as the regular season champion ahead of No. 2 seed Western Oregon and No. 3 seed Central Washington.
No. 1 seed Northwest Nazarene comes into the 2024 GANC Baseball Championships in Billings, Mont., as the regular season champion ahead of No. 2 seed Western Oregon and No. 3 seed Central Washington.

Thursday, May 9, 2024
by Thomas Lal

BILLINGS, Mont.  – After a regular season where the postseason picture wasn’t set until the penultimate day of the schedule, the 2024 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Baseball Championships in Billings will feature the same teams as the 2023 edition of the tournament.

The defending tournament-champion Western Oregon comes into the tournament as the No. 2 seed after losing out to No. 1 seed and regular season champion Northwest Nazarene while No. 3 seed Central Washington completes the tournament field after handing both the Wolves and Nighthawks losses in their last meetings.

The tournament schedule has been adjusted to take place from Friday, May 10 to Saturday, May 10 following inclement weather in Billings after originally being scheduled for May 9-10.

The first day of the GNAC Championships will feature a round-robin with all three teams playing each other once. Following the round-robin, if teams are 2-0, 1-1- and 0-2, the 0-2 would be eliminated and the other two teams would compete on day two for the championships (one or two games for double elimination). Following the round-robin, if teams are tied 1-1, No. 1 seed NNU would get the automatic bid to the championship game with the other two teams competing in a day-two elimination game to advance to the championship game.

The first pitch of the tournament is scheduled for Friday, May 10 at noon (Mountain) between No. 2 WOU and No. 3 CWU with No. 1 NNU and No. 3 CWU playing after at 3:30 p.m. The final game of the day will take place at 7:00 p.m. between No. 1 NNU and No. 2 WOU.

Tickets are available for online purchase at this link. All tickets must be purchased via the link, as cash will not be accepted on site. All games at the championship will be streamed live on the GNAC YouTube channel online here, and live statistics for all games will be available online here.

GNAC Baseball Championships Schedule

Friday, May 10

Game 1 – No. 3 Seed Central Washington vs. No. 2 Seed Western Oregon – Noon

Game 2 – No. 3 Seed Central Washington vs. No. 1 Seed Northwest Nazarene – 3:30 p.m.

Game 3 – No. 2 Seed Western Oregon vs. No. 1 Seed Northwest Nazarene – 7:00 p.m.

Saturday, May 11

Game 3 – TBD vs. TBD – Noon

Game 4 – TBD vs. TBD – 3:30 p.m.

No. 1 Seed Northwest Nazarene University Nighthawks

2024 Record: 33-12-1, 23-9 GNAC (1st place)

Home: 14-4 Away: 19-8-1 Neutral: 0-0 Streak: Lost 1

2024 vs. WOU: 3-5 2024 vs. CWU: 6-2

Tournament Appearances: 8 (2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024) Tournament Titles: 2 (2016, 2021)

Most Recent Lineup (May 3 vs. Central Washington)
1 Carter Walsh CF
2 Bryan Rojas 1B
3 Cole Calnon SS
4 Trevor Tishenkel RF
5 Adam Paganelli LF
6 Duke Pahukoa 3B
7 Manny Casillas DH
8 Gavin Brubaker 2B
9 Quentin Ayers C
  Jonathan Zayas P

X-Factor: Kyle Ethridge has been one of the best in this business this season, a fact emphasized by his selection as a GNAC Co-Pitcher of the Year. The senior left-hander from Alta Loma, Calif., compiled a 5-3 record through the regular season to go along with a 3.62 ERA that ranks third in the conference and second among pitchers playing in the postseason. Ethridge has been nothing short of elite when it comes to avoiding free bases, ranking second in the conference with just seven walks on the year and 0.88 per game. His control of the zone has resulted in 53 strikeouts across 72 innings of work.

Player to Watch: Carter Walsh, Outfield, (Second Team All-Conference, 2024 GNAC Freshman of the Year)

Walsh is a double threat for the Nighthawks, ranking second on the team with a .311 batting average and leading the team with a .426 on-base percentage. Walsh’s batting line includes 10 doubles, two triples and a pair of home runs, but perhaps his most impressive stat is his league-leading 24 stolen bases. The Boise, Idaho, native has shown exceptional speed and judgment on the basepaths, getting caught just four times across the season. He has shown that he can get the job done against some of the best teams in the conference as well, swiping a season-high three bags against Western Oregon on March 6.

Path To The Trophy: Northwest Nazarene has spent the majority of the season in the NCBWA national rankings, rising as high as No. 10, with pitching and defense being a key strength. If the age-old adage of “Defense wins championships” holds true, NNU should have as good a chance as anyone to claim its third tournament title. The Nighthawks come into the GNAC Championships ranking second in the league with a 4.53 ERA and a conference-leading .974 fielding percentage. There’s plenty of experience in the infield but the person with the most experience in the conference is first team all-GNAC third baseman Duke Pahukoa who is in his third season with the Nighthawks and is making his third straight GNAC Championships appearance.

No. 2 Seed Western Oregon University Wolves

2024 Record: 27-19, 21-11 GNAC (2nd place)

Home: 15-6 Away: 12-11 Neutral: 0-2

2024 vs. NNU: 5-3 2024 vs. CWU: 4-4

Tournament Appearances: 11 (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024) Tournament Titles: 6 (2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2022, 2023)

Most Recent Lineup (May 3 vs. Montana State Billings)
1 Curran Mitzel LF
2 Justyn Herzog SS
3 Owen Bischoff CF
4 AJ Cortese C
5 John Oleson 1B
6 Randy Stultz RF
7 Danny Alvarado DH
8 Emiliano Alarcon 3B
9 Zach Valdez 2B
  Jacob Memmott P

The Western Oregon pitching staff has been the best in the conference this season, coming into the GNAC Championships with a 4.31 ERA and 308 strikeouts. The rotation includes four of the top-10 pitchers in the conference when it comes to ERA, including two-time and reigning GNAC Co-Pitcher of the Year Arturo Alvarez with a 4.00 ERA. Alvarez owns the best record in the league with a 7-3 mark through 11 starts this season and has notched 42 strikeouts through 63 innings of work. Along with Alvarez, the Wolves can lean on Dylan Chalmers who owns a 5-2 record and a 3.48 ERA that ranks second in the GNAC and first among all pitchers participating in the tournament.

Player to Watch: Curran Mitzel, Outfield (First Team All-Conference)

Part of an incredibly balanced Western Oregon lineup, Mitzel stands out among the group as one of the most consistent offensive performers. The senior from Hillsboro, Ore., is tied for first on the team with a .310 batting average and a .465 batting average. He has been an everyday player for WOU, appearing in all 46 games of the season and starting 45. Through those contests, Mitzel has tallied 30 RBIs and 30 runs scored on seven doubles, five triples and four home runs. Coming into the GNAC Championships, Mitzel is tied for the league lead in triples along with teammate Owen Bischoff.

Path To The Trophy: The Wolves have played on the biggest stage in the GNAC more than any other team, appearing in every edition of the tournament since its inception in 2013. The team also returns the majority of its 2023 GNAC Championships-winning squad and will be able to rely on that experience as WOU seeks its third title in a row and seventh overall. Like the Nighthawks, the Wolves will also be looking to play a tight defensive game that benefits from exceptional pitching in the form of two GNAC Pitcher of the Year award winners in Alvarez and Chalmers (2023). Western Oregon has had the measure of NNU this season, winning the regular season series 5-3, but equaled Central Washington with four wins against the Wildcats, setting up a key matchup for the first game of the tournament on Friday.

No. 3 Central Washington University Wildcats

2024 Record: 27-19, 15-17 GNAC (3rd place)

Home: 9-9 Away: 12-16 Neutral: 0-2

2024 vs. NNU: 2-6 2024 vs. WOU: 4-4

Tournament Appearances: 7 (2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2021, 2023, 2024) Tournament Titles: 1 (2014)

Most Recent Lineup (May 3 vs. Northwest Nazarene)
1 Marcus Manzardo 2B
2 Kevin Varner Jr. RF
3 Austin Ohland C
4 Andrew Sharp 1B
5 Ben Leid LF
6 Jake Felton CF
7 Travis Helm DH
8 Brady Hinkle 3B
9 Jake Madson SS
  Daniel Charron P

X-Factor: Ben Leid
comes into the GNAC Championships as the reigning GNAC Player of the Year and could prove to be the key difference-maker for the Wildcats in the postseason after leading the team and the conference in the regular season with a .428 batting average, .487 on-base percentage and a .659 slugging percentage. The junior from Corvallis, Ore., has been potent against conference competition this season, notching multiple hits 22 times across 32 GNAC games. The result has a conference-leading 74 hits and 44 RBIs to rank second in the league. The run production has been incredibly important for the Wildcats as they rank third in the conference with 285 runs scored this season.

Player to Watch: Austin Ohland, Catcher (First Team All-Conference)

The senior catcher from Maple Valley, Wash., has been a fixture in the CWU lineup for five seasons and has shown that he’s still performing at the highest level of his career in 2024. Ohland comes into the GNAC Championships batting .348 and has racked up 40 RBIs and 41 runs scored on 15 doubles and six home runs while slugging .527. He posted one of the best offensive games of a GNAC player this year against Montana State Billings on March 22 racking up six hits and scoring five times. Defensively, Ohland is also one of the best in the business behind the plate, contributing to a Central Washington defense that is tied for the conference lead with 21 runners caught stealing.

Path To The Trophy: The Wildcats have shown that they can take games off both the Nighthawks and the Wolves this season, paring a conference-leading batting average of .305 with a team ERA of 5.05 that ranks third in the GNAC. The ‘Cats will have the opportunity to open the tournament with a rematch against No. 2 seed Western Oregon after winning the last matchup between the two teams, 4-2, on April 14 in Monmouth. Central Washington also brings momentum into its game against Northwest Nazarene after handing the Nighthawks a 9-7 loss in the final game of the regular season on May 3.