Wildcats Pounce On NNU To Spring 4-1 Upset
Rhaney Harris threw a complete-game two-hitter, allowing her only run with two outs in the final inning during a 4-1 win over Northwest Nazarene. Photo by Jacob Thompson.
Rhaney Harris threw a complete-game two-hitter, allowing her only run with two outs in the final inning during a 4-1 win over Northwest Nazarene. Photo by Jacob Thompson.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

ELLENSBURG, Wash. – With GNAC Pitcher of the Year Sidney Booth in the circle for top-seeded Northwest Nazarene, Central Washington could not afford to let any opportunities to score pass them by. On two separate occasions, CWU was gifted a chance by the Nighthawks’ defense and came through with big hits both times.

The Wildcats pounced on two NNU errors to score four unearned runs off Booth while their own ace, Rhaney Harris, shut down a potent Nighthawks lineup to give Central Washington a 4-1 victory that matched the seeds of the respective teams.

The Wildcats, who qualified for the tournament on the season’s final day and became unexpected tournament hosts when rain moved the GNAC Championships to Ellensburg earlier this week, will face Saint Martin’s on Friday at 12:30 p.m. with a spot in the finals on the line. Northwest Nazarene, fresh off winning its second-consecutive GNAC regular-season championship, will face defending tournament champion Western Washington at 10:00 a.m. in an elimination game.

Northwest Nazarene had solid No. 1-seed credentials, entering the tournament leading all qualifying teams in batting average (.296), ERA (2.58), home runs (35) and pitching strikeouts (287). Central Washington made the tournament as the fourth and final seed despite losing five of its final six regular season games. None of that mattered in a playoff scenario.

The third inning was the key for Central Washington. With one out and one on, shortstop Haylee Carpenter reached when the NNU second baseman booted her ground ball. Right fielder Allie Thiessen then walked to load the bases. Still, Booth responded with a strikeout and was on the verge of getting out of the jam when Wildcats catcher Alyssa Benthagen cranked a back-breaking three-run double to the gap in right-center.

Meanwhile, the Nighthawks could do nothing against Harris. The senior right-hander, who entered with a 3.37 ERA in 21 starts, scattered two hits and three walks in a complete-game masterpiece. Harris didn’t allow multiple baserunners in an inning until the seventh and retired 12 straight NNU batters at one point.

The Wildcats added some insurance in the top of the seventh. Left fielder Karsyn Decker doubled to left to lead off the frame and continued running when the left fielder’s throw overshot the cutoff and went up the first-base line. Decker initially appeared to score on the error but was sent back to third base after an umpire conference determined that the ball went out of play with Decker still between second and third. Brooke Jordan made it a moot point by singling with two outs to drive in Decker for the fourth unearned run of the game.

In the last chance for NNU in the seventh, Booth drew a lead-off walk and was lifted for pinch-runner Mari Kamemoto, who quickly proved her worth by daringly tagging up to second on a flyout to straightaway right field. After another flyout, Abigail Gagnon singled Kamemoto home to break the shutout, but Harris induced another fly ball to end the game.

It was more tough luck for Booth, who didn’t allow an earned run in seven innings while giving up six hits and a walk and striking out five. Despite pitching to a 1.91 ERA in 164.2 regular-season innings, Booth’s record fell to 15-11 with Thursday’s loss.