NNU, WOU Set For Showdown At Championships
(L to R): Northwest Nazarene's Duke Pahukoa, Western Oregon's Mike Peterson, MSUB's Cooper Dulich.
(L to R): Northwest Nazarene's Duke Pahukoa, Western Oregon's Mike Peterson, MSUB's Cooper Dulich.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

After tangling in the NCAA West Regional finals a year ago, Northwest Nazarene and Western Oregon are poised for another clash at the GNAC Championships on Thursday and Friday on the WOU campus in Monmouth, Oregon.

There was little to separate both schools during the regular season. The two clubs finished the year tied at 21-11 in GNAC play and were declared conference co-champions. The Nighthawks and Wolves also split their eight regular-season meetings. Northwest Nazarene earned the No. 1 seed at the GNAC Championships via conference tiebreakers.

Northwest Nazarene enters hitting .274 as a team with a 4.26 ERA. The Nighthawks’ offense possesses a unique blend of contact and power. They are tied for the most home runs in the conference (44) while striking out the fewest times (304, 40 less than the next-lowest team). Shortstop Parker Price sits atop the Nighthawks lineup and has been productive, hitting .320 with 14 doubles, seven home runs and 41 RBI. Price has walked as many times as he has struck out (20) and boasts a .407 on-base percentage and  .538 slugging percentage, making him one of five GNAC players with a .300/.400/.500 slash line.

Third baseman Duke Pahukoa, a UNLV transfer, is hitting .306 with eight home runs as a middle of the order threat. Pahukoa ranks third in the GNAC with a .556 slugging percentage. Grant Kerry is tied for second in the GNAC with nine home runs while playing first base. Kerry and Price are the only two GNAC position players to win multiple Player of the Week awards this season.

Senior Haden Keller has been a unique two-way talent for the Nighthawks. As an outfielder and designated hitter, Keller is hitting .311 (ninth in the conference) with five home runs and 22 RBI, but he has been even more impressive on the mound. Through 12 starts, Keller ranks second in the conference among qualifying pitchers with a 3.40 ERA and is holding opposing hitters to a league-low .210 batting average. Keller’s 63 strikeouts in 55.2 innings pitched rank fourth in the GNAC. On March 9, Keller threw the sixth no-hitter in GNAC history and first since 2019 against Central Washington.

Behind Keller, the Nighthawks pitching staff leads the conference in strikeouts (431) and fewest walks allowed (140). Brock Moffitt is a good candidate to start a game for NNU with a 3.78 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 47.2 innings. The Nighthawks have a pair of relief aces in left-handed setup man Blake McFadden, who has a 2.09 ERA and five wins in 38.2 innings pitched, and closer Max Holtzclaw. Holtzclaw ranks tied for second in Division II with 11 saves and has a 2.05 ERA in a GNAC-high 21 relief appearances. Holtzclaw has struck out 53 batters against just eight walks.

Western Oregon will be out for redemption after health and safety protocols forced them to withdraw from the 2021 GNAC Championships. The Wolves have a conference-leading 3.99 ERA, and their .976 team fielding percentage ranks fifth in Division II. Offensively, the Wolves use speed and contact to manufacture runs, with a league-high 61 stolen bases and 31 sacrifice hits.

Center fielder Jacob Maiben leads WOU offensively. Maiben has the fourth-highest batting average (.344) and has drawn the third-most walks (26), culminating in a GNAC-leading .460 on-base percentage. He is always a threat to run with his 19 stolen bases edging out twin brother Derek Maiben’s 18 for the conference lead. Derek Maiben is batting .296 with 33 RBI while playing shortstop for the Wolves.
First baseman John Stark is tied for second in the GNAC with nine home runs. Four of those bombs came in an April series against Central Washington in which Stark scooped GNAC Player of the Week honors. Jackson Holstad is batting .274 with 10 doubles while Justyn Herzog ranks second in the GNAC with four triples.

The key to any baseball postseason tournament is pitching depth, and Western Oregon may have more of it than anyone. The Wolves have two legit aces at the top of their rotation. Arturo Alvarez has a 2.83 ERA, lowest among GNAC starting pitchers, and has a 7-0 record. Alvarez has only given up two home runs in 60.2 innings pitched. Mike Peterson, the 2021 GNAC Pitcher of the Year, has a 3.68 ERA and 48 strikeouts against 12 walks in 52 innings pitched. No. 3 starter Parker Johnson is tied for the league lead with seven wins. All three starters rank in the conference top four for fewest hits, runs, walks and home runs allowed this season.

The Wolves have a stable full of bullpen arms, including Sebasten Boivin (2.21 ERA in 21 appearances), Chris Hardin (3.68 ERA in 20 appearances) and Bryce Bond (3.18 ERA, three saves). Seth Kuykendall has made five starts and 13 relief appearances and threw 6.2 shutout innings against Northwest Nazarene on April 22. Matthew Dunaway began the season as a starter, but moved to the bullpen and has racked up three saves and 47 strikeouts in 28.2 innings.

Montana State Billings locked down the No. 3 seed after going 16-16 in conference play. It is a return to the Championships for MSUB after missing the tournament for the first time in 2021. The Yellowjackets can rake, as they have the highest batting average (.279), on-base percentage (.388) and slugging percentage (.447) of teams to qualify for the Championships. They lead the GNAC in walks (229), runs (345), triples (18) and are tied for the lead with 44 home runs.

Shortstop Cooper Dulich has burst on the scene as a freshman, ranking third in the GNAC in batting average (.346) and on-base percentage (.459) while driving in 35 runs. Center fielder Carson Green is another member of the .300/.400/.500 club, hitting .319, ranking sixth in the GNAC with a .429 on-base percentage and slugging .530. Hayden Foltz is hitting .307 and ranks third in the GNAC with 43 RBI.

The Yellowjackets feature a pair of position players who won NCBWA West Regional Player of the Week honors this season. Tyler Godfrey won the award for the week of April 4-10 after tallying walk-off hits in back-to-back games against Western Oregon. Godfrey is batting .285 this season. First baseman Mitch Winter earned the award for the week of April 18-24 after batting .667 and slugging 1.556 with four home runs during a four-game series against Saint Martin’s. Winter is batting .270 and leads the GNAC with 10 home runs.

The Yellowjackets, who have a 7.42 ERA as a staff, have relied on their starting pitching more than anyone else in the conference. Dylan Barkley leads the conference in innings pitched (72.1) and Matthew Houlihan ranks fifth at 61.1, while both players’ 13 starts are the most in the GNAC. Barkley started the year on fire, throwing 12 scoreless innings to open the season and winning three of the conference’s first four Pitcher of the Week awards. He currently has a 5.35 ERA.

Houlihan has a 5.72 ERA but has shown flashes of brilliance, such as a February 18 complete-game win over national top-10 ranked Colorado Mesa and a one-hit shutout over Saint Martin’s on April 21. The most likely bullpen arms for MSUB are Tyler Elliott (15 appearances, 5.45 ERA, 48 strikeouts in 33 innings) and Blake Rainey (13 appearances).

The GNAC Championships will begin Thursday with three games: Western Oregon vs. MSUB at 10 a.m., Northwest Nazarene vs. MSUB at 1 p.m., and Northwest Nazarene vs. Western Oregon at 4 p.m. After day one, if teams are 2-0, 1-1 and 0-2, the 0-2 team is eliminated and the remaining teams will play on Friday. If there is a 1-1 tie after day one, the No. 1 team will automatically advance to the championship game. The No. 2 and 3 seeds will play a loser out game on Friday at noon.

Advance daily session tickets are available for purchase at GNACtickets.com and are priced at $10 for adults and $5 for seniors, students and children ages 6-14. Daily session tickets at the gate are priced at $12 for adults and $7 for seniors, students and children ages 6-14. Children 5 and under are free. Daily session tickets include admission to all games each day.