Nighthawks Rally Late, Win Opening NCAA Game
Northwest Nazarene's Duke Pahukoa tied the game on a seventh-inning solo home run, completing a comeback from 6-2 down in a 10-7 win over Cal Poly Pomona. Photo by Josh Burkholder.
Northwest Nazarene's Duke Pahukoa tied the game on a seventh-inning solo home run, completing a comeback from 6-2 down in a 10-7 win over Cal Poly Pomona. Photo by Josh Burkholder.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. – Northwest Nazarene’s bid to repeat its West Regional championship from a year ago is off on the right foot.

The Nighthawks scored seven of their 10 runs in their final three at-bats while the bullpen trio of Joseph Ihli, Blake McFadden and Max Holtzclaw allowed just two hits in the final six innings as No. 4 seed NNU defeated No. 5 Cal Poly Pomona 10-7 in the opening game of the NCAA West Regional from the campus of Point Loma University in San Diego, California.

With the win, Northwest Nazarene keeps itself in the winner’s bracket of the regional and ensures an evening off until they play No. 1 seed Point Loma at 11 a.m. on Friday.

Cal Poly Pomona entered on a hot streak. The Mustangs finished tied for second in the CCAA in the regular season and went 3-0 on their way to winning the CCAA conference tournament crown, averaging 10.6 runs per contest during the tournament. The Mustang offense showed up early against NNU starter Brock Moffitt, tagging the junior for two runs in the first and another in the second on a Casey Slattery home run.

The Nighthawks found CPP starter Will Rudy easy to hit as well, getting a pair of singles in the first before answering in the bottom of the second inning. Catcher Rumble Reyes walked and Grant Kerry singled to left to immediately put traffic on the bases for second baseman Colton Moore, who turned on a fastball and lined it down the right-field line for a double that scored Reyes and put Kerry at third. A Parker Price sacrifice fly cut the Mustangs' lead to 3-2 after two full innings.

A Nick Lugo double and Tyler Chaffee base hit gave Cal Poly Pomona two more runs in the third, and Moffitt’s day was done with a final line of five runs on seven hits in three innings with a walk and four strikeouts. Reliever Joseph Ihli had a shaky start in the fourth, loading the bases on a walk and two hit by pitches with nobody out, but minimized the damage by allowing just one run to cross in the inning, leaving the score 6-2 Mustangs.

Summoning the postseason magic that allowed them to become the first GNAC team to win a West Regional and reach the Division II National Championships in 2021, Northwest Nazarene slowly chipped away at the four-run deficit. Center fielder Ryan Dearing pulled a run back with a solo home run in the fourth, then the Nighthawks loaded up on baserunners in the sixth, coming away with two runs on a sacrifice fly from Kerry and a bases-loaded walk from Tyler Best.

Meanwhile, Ihli settled in, retiring nine straight Mustangs hitters after his nervy first inning. In four innings of relief, Ihli gave up one run on one hit, a walk and two hit batters while striking out three.

Northwest Nazarene turned the game on its head in the seventh when Rudy was lifted for reliever Matt Orozco. The Nighthawks welcomed the new arm to the game immediately, with Duke Pahukoa and Alex Salsman drilling back-to-back home runs to turn a 6-5 Mustangs lead into a 7-6 NNU advantage. The Nighthawks added on with a Dearing RBI single later in the seventh and a two-run double from Kerry in the eighth.

From there, NNU turned to its pair of GNAC First Team All-Conference relievers Blake McFadden and Max Holtzclaw for the final two innings. Chaffee hit a solo home run off McFadden in the eighth, but the duo combined to strike out the side in the ninth with Holtzclaw coming on for the final two outs to collect his 13th save of the year.

Top-seeded Point Loma also beat Cal Poly Pomona in Thursday’s late game from San Diego, eliminating the Mustangs from the tournament, so the regional now becomes a best-of-three series between the 1-0 Nighthawks and the 1-0 Sea Lions. Point Loma will be a difficult opponent, as the Sea Lions are ranked third in the country and boast a 44-7 record. Point Loma swept Northwest Nazarene in a four-game series back in February. The two teams will play on Friday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. (Pacific), with an if-necessary contest on Saturday.