Dueling Home Runs Send Nighthawks To Victory Over Wolves
NNU benefitted from hot offense to start the game and stellar defense and pitching to close out its 5-4 win over WOU on the first day of the 2024 GNAC Baseball Championships. | Photo By Shi Robison
NNU benefitted from hot offense to start the game and stellar defense and pitching to close out its 5-4 win over WOU on the first day of the 2024 GNAC Baseball Championships. | Photo By Shi Robison

Friday, May 10, 2024
by Thomas Lal

BILLINGS, Mont.  – In one of the premier pitching matchups in the conference, it was the offense that showed up loudest to start the evening as Northwest Nazarene defeated Western Oregon 5-4 in the third game of the 2024 GNAC Baseball Championships at Pirtz Field in Billings.

The final game of Friday’s tripleheader featured four combined home runs with each team knocking a pair out of the ballpark. Northwest Nazarene was led by a stellar effort from Carter Walsh at the plate which saw the reigning GNAC Freshman of the Year go 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs scored on a home run, a walk and a stolen base. The Wolves were led by a 3-for-4 night from Owen Bischoff as he collected an RBI and scored a run via a solo home run.

Northwest Nazarene’s Josh Brown earned the win on the mound for the Nighthawks after throwing 4.1 innings in relief without allowing a run on four hits while striking out four batters. Western Oregon starter Dylan Chalmers was tagged with the loss after five innings of work where he allowed five runs, four earned, on 10 his and struck out four.

After two strong innings to open the game by Chalmers, it was Northwest Nazarene’s first team all-conference shortstop Cole Calnon who opened the scoring in the bottom of the third inning with a two-run home run that soared over the left field fence and brought Walsh around to score as well.

The Wolves wouldn’t go quietly, however, knocking back-to-back home runs by Justyn Herzog and Owen Bischoff in the top of the fourth inning to draw Western Oregon level 2-2. The home runs were the first hits allowed by Northwest Nazarene starter and Co-GNAC Pitcher of the Year Kyle Ethridge who finished the night with four runs allowed, three earned, on four hits and a walk while striking out a pair.

The Nighthawks retook the lead in the bottom of the frame on a pass ball that allowed Bryan Rojas to score from third base. They extended that lead with the fourth home run of the game, this time a two-run shot by Walsh that arced down the left field line, to make the score 5-2 in an offense-heavy middle stretch of the game.

Once again the Wolves showed dogged determination at the next possible opportunity. Western Oregon’s next two runs of the game via a hard-hit single by leadoff man Curran Mitzel that brought two runs across the plate in the form of Zach Valdez and Emiliano Alarcon and cut the lead to just one where it would remain for the remainder of the night. Ethridge punched out the last batter he faced, Herzog, before passing the rock to right-handed reliever Brown.

Northwest Nazarene threatened to extend the lead once again in the bottom of the fifth inning as Trevor Tishenkel and Adam Paganelli led off the inning with a pair of singles. Chalmers stood tall on the mound, however, facing the heart of the order to strike out Duke Pahukoa and Rojas. A single by Liam Herrara prompted the NNU coaching staff to wave Tishenkel around to home plate, but an excellent relay by Mitzel to Herzog and eventually catcher AJ Cortese put an end to the Nighthawks’ inning.

Chalmers also ended his day after the fifth inning, passing the ball over to right-handed reliever Shane Bailey for the sixth frame. The Western Oregon defense was in fine form once again in the bottom of the seventh inning as Bischoff fielded a deep fly ball from Paganelli and launched a perfect throw to catch Tishenkel out at third base after hitting a leadoff double. Not to be outdone, the Wolves’ infield and Bailey came through to force Pahukoa to ground out and end the inning.

Brown ensured that the game originally billed for defensive excellence finished the same way, as he shut the door for the final two innings without allowing a run to secure the win. Western Oregon pushed for the equalizer until the very end, evidenced as Mitzel tried to stretch a one-out double into a triple in the top of the ninth but was gunned down at third base back a pinpoint throw from Walsh. Bailey was every bit as good as Brown for the Wolves, finishing his outing with no runs allowed on just one hit and two walks through three innings.

 With the victory in hand, Northwest Nazarene moves to 2-0 in tournament play (34-12-1 overall) and will face Western Oregon (1-1 in tournament play, 28-20 overall) in an elimination game tomorrow at Noon (Mountain).

If the Nighthawks win, they will be crowned GNAC Champion for the second time this season while a Western Oregon win would force an “if-necessary” game immediately following the first. All games for tomorrow are scheduled to take place at Dehler Park in Billings.