Nighthawks Close Season With Sweep, Team Of The Week
The Northwest Nazarene baseball team recorded four key victories against Montana State Billings, doing everything they possibly could to secure a regular-season title.
The Northwest Nazarene baseball team recorded four key victories against Montana State Billings, doing everything they possibly could to secure a regular-season title.

Monday, May 2, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. – After a late-season stumble in which they lost six of eight to GNAC opponents, Northwest Nazarene found themselves a game out of first place with two weekends left in the season.

With a bye on the final weekend, the Nighthawks needed to put as much distance between themselves and the field as possible, a challenging task against a third-place Montana State Billings squad that split with NNU in Billings back in March.

This time around, however, Northwest Nazarene was dominant. The Nighthawks swept all four games from MSUB to take a three-game lead in the standings and flip all the pressure over to Western Oregon this coming weekend. For the sweep in the most important series of the season, Northwest Nazarene has been named the GNAC Team of the Week.

“I’m very proud of the way our guys responded this week after a couple tough road series,” NNU head coach Joe Schaefer said. “We knew there was a lot at stake and these guys rose to the challenge.”

The Nighthawks kicked things off on Friday with a pair of 9-4 victories. GNAC Player of the Week Parker Price got the series off to a perfect start with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning of the opening game, part of a four-run frame that also featured a two-run double from Duke Pahukoa and an RBI double from Alex Salsman. Montana State Billings hung around, however, and when Yellowjackets catcher Ethan Babcock-Barrie led off the top of the sixth with a solo shot to cut the NNU lead to 5-4, starter Haden Keller was pulled for relief ace Blake McFadden.

McFadden was brilliant, retiring the first nine Yellowjackets he faced. Price, meanwhile, hit his second home run of the game, a two-run shot to make it 7-4. The Nighthawks tacked on two runs in the eighth inning to stake McFadden with a four-run lead entering the ninth. A hit batter and a single put traffic on the bases for the first time against McFadden, but the senior induced an infield popup and a double-play grounder to lock down the four-inning save, his fourth of the season.

Friday’s nightcap had a couple moments of déjà vu. Price once again hit a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first for his third home run of the day. The Nighthawks jumped all over reigning GNAC Pitcher of the Week Matthew Houlihan, scoring nine runs in 2.1 innings off the Yellowjackets’ starter. Catcher Rumble Reyes and Salsman each had two-run homers, with RBI singles from Price and Tyler Best completing the offensive outburst. A late MSUB flurry trimmed a 9-1 score after three innings into a final 9-4 margin for the second consecutive game.

With MSUB in a race of its own for the No. 3 seed in the GNAC Championships, the Yellowjackets fought hard for wins on Saturday and nearly turned the tide of the series by tying Saturday’s opener in stunning fashion in the top of the seventh with a three-run bomb that made it 3-3. But Salsman led off the eighth with a mammoth home run to left, putting the Nighthawks in front for good at 4-3. Closer Max Holtzclaw worked the final two innings for his fourth win of the year, recording four of his six outs via strikeout.

In Saturday’s series finale, the teams traded solo home runs early, with Pahukoa leaving the yard for NNU to make it 1-1 through two innings. Northwest Nazarene took control of the game with a three-run fourth inning. Pahukoa doubled to score Best before Salsman came through with yet another big hit, singling up the middle to score Keller and Pahukoa. Colton Moore hit a solo shot in the fifth for insurance.

On the mound, Joseph Ihli got the win after giving up an unearned run in three innings of relief. Ihli turned it over to McFadden, who retired all five men he faced with two strikeouts. McFadden was named GNAC Pitcher of the Week after allowing one hit in 5.2 innings pitched. Holtzclaw pitched the seventh and final inning, locking down the Yellowjackets 1-2-3 for his 11th save of the season, which is tied for second in Division II.

Due to having a bye in the last week of the season, Northwest Nazarene’s regular season is complete. They lead Western Oregon by three games in the standings, meaning WOU has to sweep Saint Martin’s in its final series of the year in order to steal the regular-season championship from the Nighthawks. Northwest Nazarene can finish no worse than second in the GNAC and they have clinched its third consecutive berth in the GNAC Championships, which will take place in Monmouth on May 12-13.

“It’s great to finish the regular season with a little momentum and to give our seniors a series sweep in their last time playing on our home field,” Schaefer said.