Wolves Complete Comeback, Win GNAC Championships
Western Oregon won its first GNAC Championships since 2018 after winning three straight elimination games. Photo by Amanda Loman.
Western Oregon won its first GNAC Championships since 2018 after winning three straight elimination games. Photo by Amanda Loman.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

MONMOUTH, Ore. – Western Oregon ended the first day of the GNAC Championships with its back firmly against the wall. The Wolves ended the final day in a dogpile on home plate.

The Wolves raced out to a 5-0 lead and relied on their lockdown pitching the rest of the way, holding on for a 5-2 victory over Northwest Nazarene that gave Western Oregon the GNAC Championship and the conference’s automatic qualifying berth to the NCAA West Regional. After losing to Montana State Billings in the first game of the tournament, the Wolves reeled off victories in three consecutive elimination games to claim the trophy.

“Happy for our guys that we get to keep playing,” head coach Kellen Walker said. “We haven’t done anything the easy way this season but for them to bear down and be comfortable in tough situations, I’m just really happy we get to keep competing as a group.”

Although starting pitcher Seth Kuykendall gave WOU 4.2 effective innings, tournament MVP Bryce Bond earned the win with 2.1 shutout innings. Over three appearances at the GNAC Championships, Bond threw 6.2 innings of shutout relief with seven strikeouts, one walk and four hits for a 1-0 record. Opposing batters hit .174 against Bond over the past three days.

Flying high after beating Montana State Billings earlier in the day, the Wolves came out on fire. They scored all their runs in the first two innings, capitalizing on defensive miscues to open up a lead. Jacob Maiben singled to lead off the game and Derek Maiben followed with a single up the middle. The NNU center fielder overran the ball, allowing Jacob to score all the way from first and Derek to advance to second.

Nighthawks starter Brock Moffitt got himself out of further trouble by fielding his position. He snagged a line drive and doubled off Maiben at second base, then gloved a one-hop comebacker to end the inning.

The most important inning for WOU was the second. After Jackson Holstad led off by singling up the middle, Leighton Moniz laid down a bunt single and Anthony Zellner walked to load the bases. Spencer Weston got plunked on the first pitch to force in a run to make it 3-0.

The next batter, left fielder Levi Cummings, hit a soft, sinking ball to right field. Northwest Nazarene right fielder Haden Keller laid out to make an impressive, sprawling catch, but threw wildly up the third base line to home plate when Moniz attempted to tag up. That second error allowed Zellner and Weston to move up to second and third, which ended up looming large as a Jacob Maiben infield single and Derek Maiben sacrifice fly scored both runners to give the Wolves a 5-0 lead.

Elimination games lead to quicker hooks, and the Nighthawks pulled Moffitt after Jacob Maiben’s single made it 4-0. Moffitt threw 1.1 innings and allowed five hits and five runs, although only two of the runs were earned. Nick Irwin came out of the pen and retired two straight batters while allowing one of two inherited runners to score.

The same quick hook applied to Kuykendall, with Western Oregon pulling the senior at 59 pitches after he ran into trouble in the fifth. Grant Kerry and Rumble Reyes led off the inning with back-to-back singles before Kyle Payne reached on a fielder’s choice that saw Kerry score and Reyes forced out at second. Kuykendall struck out the next batter, but after a walk, the Wolves made the move to Bond. The freshman reliever allowed an inherited runner to score when Tyler Best singled up the middle, but then retired the side. Kuykendall’s final line was 4.2 innings, allowing two runs on four hits with a walk and two strikeouts.

The Nighthawks bullpen held WOU in check after the first two innings. Relievers Irwin, Blake McFadden and Max Holtzclaw were absolutely dominant, combining to pitch 6.2 shutout innings and allowing just one hit and two walks against 11 strikeouts.

But the damage had been done, and NNU wasn’t able to keep the offensive mojo going after its fifth-inning rally. After Bond, Matthew Dunaway came in for the two-inning save, and retired six in a row after a lead-off single. The final batter, pinch-hitter Cameron Bogard, hit a pop-up to the catcher in foul territory. Zellner made the catch, but his momentum took him onto his back, where he was a sitting duck to become the eye of the storm in the Wolves’ dogpile celebration.

While Western Oregon is assured of a regional bid, they will tune in Sunday at 7 p.m. (PT) for the NCAA Selection Show to learn its seeding and opponent. Northwest Nazarene will also be watching intently to see if it receives an at-large berth. The NCAA Selection Show will be streamed live on NCAA.com.