Nighthawks Score 16 En Route To Victory Over Wildcats
No. 1 seed Northwest Nazarene won its first game of the 2024 GNAC Baseball Championships 16-6 over No. 3 seed Central Washington after scoring in each of the first five innings. | Photo By Shi Robison
No. 1 seed Northwest Nazarene won its first game of the 2024 GNAC Baseball Championships 16-6 over No. 3 seed Central Washington after scoring in each of the first five innings. | Photo By Shi Robison

Friday, May 10, 2024
by Thomas Lal

BILLINGS, Mont.  – There was no doubt about No. 1 seed Northwest Nazarene’s intentions in the second game of the 2024 GNAC Baseball Championships. The plan was to score runs, and score runs the Nighthawks did as they slugged their way to a 16-6 victory over No. 3 seed Central Washington at Pirtz Field in Billings.

The NNU lineup was led by shortstop Cole Calnon who went 3-for-6 at the plate, including a double to produce four RBIs and score two runs. Veteran third baseman Duke Pahukoa also put in a stellar offensive effort, going 2-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs scored, including a three-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Central Washington was led by reigning GNAC Player of the Year Ben Leid with a 2-for-5 effort that included a solo home run along with two RBIs and two runs scored.

Bryan Rojas earned the win for the Nighthawks on the mound, throwing six innings and allowing three runs, two earned, on seven hits while striking out four to improve to 4-0 on the season. Daniel Charron was tagged with the loss for Central Washington after allowing eight runs, seven earned, on seven hits and a walk while striking out three to finish the season 5-5.

Northwest Nazarene piled on the pressure early, scoring at least one run in each of the first five innings. The Nighthawks picked up their first run of the day on a solo home run as reigning conference Freshman of the Year Carter Walsh knocked one out of the park in his very first GNAC Championships at-bat. The long ball proved to be the first of three home runs that the NNU offense would hit against the Wildcats.

It was Adam Paganelli who came around to score for the Nighthawks in the second, taking advantage of an error by Central Washington shortstop Jake Madson. The first two innings proved to just be a prelude for NNU, as the team racked up four runs in the third frame to grow their lead to 6-0. The biggest swing of the inning came from Trevor Tishenkel as the right-fielder demolished a two-run homer to right-center field after Calnon hit a two-RBI double of his own earlier in the frame.

The Nigthhawks doubled down in the fourth inning, knocking out Central Washington starter Charron in a frame where they scored seven runs on eight hits to make it a 13-0 advantage. Charron finished his game with seven runs allowed on seven hits and a walk across three innings of work. It was Pahukoa who drove in the most runs of any Nighthawk with a three-run homer on the first pitch he saw from CWU reliever Beau Kearsey. The Nighthawks made it five consecutive innings with a run as Calnon notched his fourth RBI of the game with a single up the middle to bring Walsh around to score.

Central Washington put its first run of the game on the board in the top of the sixth inning as Leid broke up Rojas’ shutout with an RBI-triple to score Austin Ohland from first base. Leid scored on a fielder’s choice himself as Pahukoa made an exceptional charging play on a softly hit ball to throw Andrew Sharp out at first base. The ‘Cats picked up another run as Calnon committed his second error of the inning, allowing Ryan McCarty to score with two down, making the score 14-3 heading into the bottom of the frame.

After the Nighthawks brought Nick Bateman into the game, the Wildcats cut the lead even further heading into the seventh inning stretch as Ohland followed up a leadoff single by Kevin Varner Jr. with a two-run shot to left field. Following the home run and singles from Sharp and Felton, Northwest Nazarene brought in Jaxon Henderson to close out the inning.

It was Henderson who saw the game out for the Nighthawks, throwing the final 2.1 innings. The right-hander allowed just one hit, a towering solo shot by Leid that gave the Wildcats their final run of the game in the top of the ninth.

With the win, Northwest Nazarene moves to 1-0 in tournament play and will face No. 2 seed Western Oregon (1-0 in tournament play) in the final game of the day at 7:00 p.m. ahead of the GNAC Championships final tomorrow.