Nighthawks Beat Saints Twice, Win GNAC Crown
Northwest Nazarene won its first GNAC Championships softball title since 2018, winning four straight elimination games to pull it off. Photo by Jacob Thompson.
Northwest Nazarene won its first GNAC Championships softball title since 2018, winning four straight elimination games to pull it off. Photo by Jacob Thompson.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

ELLENSBURG, Wash. – After winning four elimination games in the span of just over 24 hours, Northwest Nazarene backed up its regular-season championship by winning the GNAC Softball Championships, defeating No. 2 seed Saint Martin’s by scores of 9-1 and 3-1 at Frederick Field in Ellensburg, Washington.

With the two wins on Saturday, Northwest Nazarene completed a comeback that was forced to begin in earnest when they lost their opening round game to No. 4 seed Central Washington on Thursday, putting NNU’s backs against the wall in the double-elimination tournament. But the Nighthawks knocked out Western Washington 4-0 and eliminated CWU 2-1 on Friday before beating previously undefeated Saint Martin’s twice to storm back and take the title.

A huge component of the NNU tidal wave was tournament MVP Sidney Booth. On Saturday, Booth threw a six-inning three-hitter in the opening-game run-rule victory then came on to throw the final 2.1 innings and earn the save in the winner-take-all championship game. In four appearances and three starts during the Championships, Booth threw 22.1 innings and gave up two earned runs on 14 hits for a 0.63 ERA while walking four and striking out 14.

Booth threw her career-high 26th complete game of the season in Saturday’s opening contest. The Nighthawks didn’t waste any time getting on the board, as Booth singled home Ivy Hommel before the Nighthawks added three in the second inning. A sacrifice fly from Madison Felter added a second run and an Emma Mulligan single which put two on with two out prompted Saint Martin’s to pull starting pitcher Tia Ridings for sophomore Abby Runyon.

Hommel singled home a run and advanced Mulligan to third. The Nighthawks’ middle infield combo then executed a double steal in which Hommel took second and Mulligan swiped home to make it 4-0. From that point on, it felt like Northwest Nazarene was in control. Mulligan stole three bases over the course of the GNAC Championships while Hommel had two. They were the only two players to safely record a steal.

Booth cruised, retiring the first eight SMU hitters and not allowing a hit until a Malia Pinder single with one out in the fourth. Saints center fielder Shay Lopes tagged Booth for a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth, but that was the only real threat of the game.

The Nighthawks continued to add on. Kelcie Adams singled home a run in the fifth and NNU added another on a wild pitch. In the sixth, Charlotte Forniss hit a two-run double to left which made it 9-1 and allowed Booth to slam the door in the bottom of the inning for a run-rule victory in six innings.

The job was only halfway done for Northwest Nazarene, but the momentum had firmly swung. The Nighthawks scored all three of their second-game runs in the first inning.

Mulligan was once again a catalyst, singling to open the game. She hit .308 for the tournament, tops among NNU hitters, and tallied a .470 on-base percentage. After Booth walked with one out, Maia McNicoll singled through the right side to score Mulligan, Tori Hensley drove in Booth with a groundout and Abigail Gagnon brought McNicoll around to score with another base hit.

Firmly in business with a three-run lead, NNU sent Hensley to the mound. In two starts during the GNAC Championships, Hensley pitched to a 0.60 ERA, giving up one earned run in 11.2 innings pitched. She sparkled on Saturday, rebounding from a leadoff single and walk in the top of the first inning to retire 12 consecutive Saints hitters.

After a two-out single in the fifth, the Nighthawks went to Booth in the circle, who retired Vanessa Smoke to end the threat. Saint Martin’s brought a run back on a solo home run by Pinder in the sixth inning, but Booth worked around a lead-off single in the seventh to complete the save. Booth lifted her arms in the air before the final out even entered Felter’s glove in center field.

The Nighthawks earned their first GNAC Championships win since 2018 after they lost in the finals last year. They will also receive the GNAC’s automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Regional. Saint Martin’s, along with the GNAC’s other teams, will wait for the NCAA Selection Show at 10 a.m. ET on Monday, May 9 to find out if their seasons will continue into the NCAA tournament.