Wolves Take Lead With Two Weekends To Go
Zach Valdez drove in a run on a squeeze bunt in a 6-3 Western Oregon victory, emblematic of WOU's pitching and defense small-ball approach that has the Wolves in first place.
Zach Valdez drove in a run on a squeeze bunt in a 6-3 Western Oregon victory, emblematic of WOU's pitching and defense small-ball approach that has the Wolves in first place.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Northwest Nazarene entered the season as the GNAC’s only nationally-ranked team, was the preseason pick to win the conference and raced out to a 9-3 start in GNAC play. But with two weekends to go in the season, there is a new team in first place: Western Oregon.

The Wolves took the crown from NNU directly, winning three of four games against the Nighthawks over the weekend in Monmouth. After Northwest Nazarene won three of four in Idaho earlier this season, WOU’s series win tied up the season series at 4-4 between the two teams who battled for the NCAA West Region title last year. More importantly, the Wolves made up two games in the standings on NNU and lead the Nighthawks by a game. Each team has four regular-season games remaining.

Western Oregon completely shut down the Nighthawk offense during a Friday doubleheader, winning 3-0 and 2-0. In the opener, Mike Peterson pitched seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out seven before giving way to Matthew Dunaway for the two-inning save. In the nightcap, Seth Kuykendall was pulled one out shy of a complete game but threw 6.2 innings, allowing three hits and a walk.

On Saturday, Western Oregon rode a four-run first inning to a 6-3 win before Northwest Nazarene earned a 3-1 win in game four to avoid the sweep. Blake McFadden earned a three-inning save in that contest.

While the series between the Wolves and Nighthawks was the most consequential for the title race, Saint Martin’s and Montana State Billings provided plenty of entertaining moments over the course of their eventual four-game split.

After an 11-5 Saints win in Thursday’s opener, Matthew Houlihan put the Yellowjackets on his back, twirling a one-hit shutout while striking out 11 over the seven-inning game, which finished 2-0. Designated hitter Mitch Winter provided all the scoring MSUB would need with a two-run home run in the second inning.

As the series turned to Friday, Winter proved he was just getting started. The slugger mashed two home runs in the opener and added yet another two-run shot in the nightcap to finish the week with four home runs, five runs scored and eight RBI. Winter and Houlihan were named the GNAC Pitcher and Player of the Week on Monday and earned the same honors for the West Region from the NCBWA on Tuesday.

Winter’s blasts were far from the only story of Friday’s doubleheader in Billings, however. Reminiscent of a recent Central Washington and MSUB series that put up eye-popping scores, Billings was again host to a pair of slugfests, with Saint Martin’s winning game three 22-11 and MSUB winning game four 16-13. In the nightcap, the Yellowjackets scored 13 unanswered runs in the final two and a half innings, coming back from down 10 to defeat SMU. The weather played a significant factor in the general craziness, with a torrential downpour hampering the ability of pitchers and fielders to make plays. The teams combined for 23 walks, seven hit batters, seven wild pitches and three errors in the finale alone.

Northwest Nazarene will host Montana State Billings this week as each team looks to solidify their GNAC Championships qualifying and seeding credentials. Saint Martin’s will need to stack up wins against last-place Central Washington if the Saints want to catch MSUB for third place and the final spot in the tournament. The Yellowjackets currently lead the Saints by three games after their split this week. 


Mitch Winter, Montana State Billings
1B • 6-1 • Fr. • Rio Rancho, N.M.
Winter had an impressive week at the plate for MSUB against Saint Martin’s, batting .667 for the series with a .727 on-base percentage and a 1.556 slugging percentage. He went 6 for 9 with five runs scored, four home runs and eight RBI. Winter went 2 for 2 and hit a two-run homer to account for all of the scoring in the 2-0 second-game win on Friday. Winter went 3 for 5 with a two-run homer and a solo shot in the 22-11 opening-game loss before closing the series with a two-run homer in the 16-13 victory in the finale.

Also Nominated: Hunter Kosmider (Saint Martin’s), Jackson Holstad (Western Oregon)

Matthew Houlihan, Montana State Billings
RHP • 6-4 • So. • Renton, Wash.
Houlihan threw his third complete game of the season, a one-hitter on Friday to beat Saint Martin’s 2-0. He allowed the one hit and four walks and struck out 11 in the seven-inning game to improve to 5-3 on the season.

Also Nominated: Brock Moffitt (Northwest Nazarene), Justice Yamashita (Saint Martin’s), Mike Peterson (Western Oregon).


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• Central Washington did not play this past week. In their last action, they lost three out of four in a home series against Western Oregon. On Apr. 15, the Wildcats took the first game 10-9 in 10 innings, then lost the nightcap 12-4 and lost 11-4 and 8-7 on Apr. 16.
Michael Peter batted .462 during the series with two doubles, three runs scored and three RBI. In Central’s 10-9 win, Peter hit 3 for 4 with a two-run triple and eventually scored the game-winning run on Charlie Larson’s single in the 10th. Peter is batting .265 on the season.
• Although CWU would lose the next three games, Tyler McClain continued his red-hot month of April, batting .400 with a league-high nine RBI over this week. McClain drove in at least a run in every game of the series with a two-run double in game one, a solo home run in game two and three RBI in each of Saturday’s games. McClain is batting .331 with 26 RBI this season.
Brayde Hirai earned the win on the mound with four scoreless innings of relief in Friday’s opener. The Wildcats switched up their starting rotation as Josh Touhey (nine starts) and Jake Bradley (six) made bullpen appearances.
• Central Washington leads the GNAC with a .294 batting average and also has a league-high 7.84 team ERA. The Wildcats boast the offensive conference leaders in hits (Zach Berryman, 58), runs (Adam Fahsel, 42) and RBI (Austin Ohland, 41). Ohland ranks second in Division II with 21 doubles.
• Central Washington will travel to Saint Martin’s, playing twice on Friday and twice on Saturday.

• Montana State Billings split a four-game series with Saint Martin’s. The Saints won 11-5 on Thursday before MSUB recorded a 2-0 victory. On Friday, the Saints won the opener 22-11 but MSUB came from behind to win the finale, 16-13.
Mitch Winter could not stop smashing baseballs on his way to the GNAC and NCBWA West Region Player of the Week awards. Winter batted 6 for 9 with four home runs, eight RBI and five runs scored. He hit a two-run home run that provided all the offense in Thursday’s win before hitting three bombs on Friday, including two in the opening game. Winter also drew two walks and had a .727 on-base percentage and a 1.556 slugging percentage. He now has eight home runs this season, tied for third in the GNAC.
Matthew Houlihan was masterful in his start during Thursday’s nightcap, winning GNAC and NCBWA West Region Pitcher of the Week honors. Houlihan went the distance in the seven-inning contest, his third complete game of the season, allowing just one hit with four walks and 11 strikeouts. In 12 appearances and 11 starts this season, Houlihan has a 4.42 ERA in 55 innings pitched, which is the fourth-most in the GNAC.
Carson Green had a strong offensive week, hitting 4 for 11 with six runs scored, two home runs and five RBI. Both home runs came in the 22-11 loss. Green ranks fifth in the GNAC with 79 total bases.
PJ Ausmus had a key bases-clearing double on the eighth pitch of the at-bat in the fifth inning of the series finale, which made it 13-6 and kick-started a double-digit comeback for the Yellowjackets. Down 13-11 entering the bottom of the sixth, MSUB tied the score when Green and James Anderson were both hit by pitches with the bases loaded before Kevin Blair came through with another three-run double to provide the final 16-13 margin.
• The Yellowjackets are batting .281 and have a 7.27 ERA. They travel to Northwest Nazarene on Friday and Saturday.

• Northwest Nazarene lost three of four to Western Oregon, ceding control of first place in the conference standings. The Nighthawks were shut out twice on Friday, 3-0 and 2-0, and lost 6-3 on Saturday before winning the finale, 3-1.
Tyler Best was NNU’s best hitter for the week, batting 4 for 12 with an RBI double. Cameron Bogard tallied an RBI triple during Saturday’s opening loss.
• Despite the offensive struggles, the Nighthawks got a strong start from Brock Moffitt, who gave up only two unearned runs on three hits and no walks in six innings. In relief, Joseph Ihli fired 3.2 one-hit innings spread over two appearances while Spencer Martin threw five two-run innings to keep NNU in the game after starter Haden Keller lasted only a third of an inning.
• Northwest Nazarene has a .269 batting average and a 4.36 team ERA. They lead the GNAC with 35 home runs and have struck out the most batters (394) while striking out the fewest times (277). Grant Kerry is tied for the league lead with nine home runs while Parker Price ranks tied for second in the GNAC with 36 RBI. A trio of Nighthawk pitchers – Keller, Moffitt and Kyle Ethridge – rank third, fourth and fifth in the conference in strikeouts.
• The Nighthawks are seventh in the latest NCBWA West Region poll, down from fifth last week. Northwest Nazarene will host Montana State Billings for four games on Friday and Saturday to complete their regular season.

• Saint Martin’s reached a stalemate with Montana State Billings, splitting a four-game series with the Yellowjackets. The Saints won Thursday’s opener 11-5 and Friday’s opener 22-11 but lost Thursday’s nightcap 2-0 and Friday’s 16-13.
Hunter Kosmider batted .500 for the week, hitting 7 for 14 with seven runs batted in and six runs scored while drawing six walks. He had a pair of RBI singles in Thursday’s opener before collecting an RBI single and RBI groundout in Friday’s opener and a three-run double in the nightcap to help build SMU’s 13-3 lead. For the year, Kosmider is batting .267 with a .355 on-base percentage.
Dakota Hill found a variety of ways to drive runs home. He had an RBI single in the series opener before driving home five in Friday’s win via a fielder’s choice, a two-run single and a pair of bases-loaded walks. Hill hit two sacrifice flies in the series finale to finish with eight RBI for the week. Thanks to the merry-go-round nature of Friday’s doubleheader, Mark Steward, Austin Schaler and Kosmider all scored six runs over the course of the series while DJ Akiyama scored eight.
Finnley Butler fared better than any other starting pitcher in the series not named Matthew Houlihan, throwing 6.1 innings and giving up three runs, two earned, on four hits and five walks. Colin Driscoll got the save in Friday’s opener with 1.2 hitless innings.
• The Saints have a .248 team batting average and a 6.88 team ERA. They will host Central Washington for a four-game series on Friday and Saturday.

• Western Oregon took three of four from Northwest Nazarene, taking over first place in the GNAC standings in the process. The Wolves completely shut out NNU on Friday, winning 3-0 and 2-0, and added a 6-3 win on Saturday before losing the finale 3-1.
•  Mike Peterson started the series off on a high note, throwing seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out seven. Seth Kuykendall pitched 6.2 innings, allowing three hits and a walk. The stellar starting pitching continued on Saturday, with Arturo Alvarez throwing six two-run innings.
Matthew Dunaway began the season as a starter, but has been converted into a closer with serious strikeout stuff as Western Oregon has hit their stride. Dunaway collected two saves, allowing one hit with four strikeouts in two innings in relief of Peterson in Friday’s opener and recording a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts in Saturday’s opener. Bryce Bond played a fireman role, relieving Kuykendall to collect the final out in Friday’s nightcap before appearing in both Saturday games. Bond induced a flyout to get WOU out of an eighth-inning jam in the opener and then threw 1.2 hitless innings in the nightcap, allowing one run on three walks.
• Offensively, Jackson Holstad led the charge, batting .333 with four RBI and a pair of doubles. Holstad had two separate RBI hits in the series-opening 3-0 win and hit a two-run double in Friday’s opener.
• Western Oregon also small-balled its way to some runs. They won their 2-0 game by scoring unearned runs on a fielder’s choice and a sacrifice fly, and the 6-3 win was buoyed by a three-run first that included a successful squeeze bunt from Zach Valdez.
• The Wolves moved up to fifth in the latest NCBWA West Region Poll. They are batting .250 and lead the GNAC with a 4.09 ERA and a .975 fielding percentage.
• Western Oregon is off this week. They will conclude their regular season with four games at Saint Martin’s on May 5-6.