Nighthawks Picked To Soar To Softball Title Repeat
Northwest Nazarene returns 13 overall players, eight starting position players and three pitchers from its 2022 championship season. Photo by Jacob Thompson.
Northwest Nazarene returns 13 overall players, eight starting position players and three pitchers from its 2022 championship season. Photo by Jacob Thompson.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

PORTLAND, Ore. – Northwest Nazarene won it all in 2022 and, with a loaded lineup returning, they are the favorites to win it again in 2023.

The Nighthawks picked up all seven first-place votes to emerge as the unanimous favorite in the 2023 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Softball Preseason Coaches Poll.

With 49 total points, Northwest Nazarene leads a poll that matches the final 2022 regular-season standings for the top five spots. Saint Martin’s is picked second with 36 points with Western Washington close behind in third with 35 points. Central Washington is picked fourth with 32 points.

Western Oregon, which tied with Simon Fraser for fifth in 2022, is picked fifth with 21 points. The Wolves are followed by Montana State Billings in sixth (12 points) and Simon Fraser in seventh (11 points).

Northwest Nazarene was solid in all areas of the game last season. In the circle, Nighthawks led the conference and ranked 34th in Division II with a 2.33 ERA and led the conference with 171 runs allowed and a .227 opponent batting average. Offensively, NNU was third in the conference with a .285 batting average and led the way with 303 runs, 219 walks and a .381 on-base percentage. The Nighthawks were second in the GNAC with 414 hits and 35 home runs.

The Nighthawks return just about every difference-maker from last year, including eight starting position players and all three starting pitchers. Junior Sidney Booth was the 2022 GNAC Pitcher of the Year and earned Second Team All-West Region honors with her league-leading 1.71 ERA and 18-12 record. In 201 innings, Booth allowed just 72 runs, limited opponents to a .199 batting average and finished 17th in Division II with 218 strikeouts. At the plate, she was fifth in the GNAC with a .372 batting average and ranked third with 14 doubles and 47 RBIs.

In fact, NNU returns multiple two-way threats. Senior Tori Hensley earned Second Team All-GNAC honors after finishing with a 10-5 record and 2.92 ERA while batting .323 with 43 hits and 22 RBIs. Sophomore Charlotte Forniss was a First Team All-GNAC honoree and the GNAC Freshman of the Year after she posted a 3.03 ERA, allowing just 22 runs in 39.1 innings while batting .290 with a .484 slugging percentage.

Senior outfielder Maia McNicoll batted .290, was tied for first in the GNAC with 11 RBI and finished seventh in Division II with 66 RBI to earn First Team All-GNAC honors. Junior infielder Abigail Gagnon batted .303 with 46 hits and 25 RBIs to earn Second Team All-GNAC distinction.

Saint Martin’s posted its first 30-win season since 2016 and just it’s fourth in the GNAC era. The Saints were most formidable in the circle, ranking third in the conference with a 3.72 ERA. While the Saints’ .271 batting average ranked sixth in the conference, their power numbers made up the difference with 109 extra-base hits and 76 doubles. Like Northwest Nazarene, SMU returns an experienced lineup with seven returning position players and all three starting pitchers.

The pitching staff is led by sophomore Chloe Leverington, who earned First Team All-GNAC and Second Team D2CCA All-West Region honors thanks to 13 wins and a 2.27 ERA. In 114 innings, Leverington struck out 109 batters and allowed just 52 runs and 15 walks. She ranked 10th in Division II with a 7.27 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 20th with 0.92 walks per seven innings. Junior Tia Ridings compiled a 3.78 ERA with nine wins while junior Abby Runyon had eight wins with a 4.28 ERA.

Junior infielder Malia Pinder collected First Team All-GNAC and Second Team D2CCA All-West Region honors after finishing fourth in the conference with a .377 batting average and 28 walks. She finished second with a .473 on-base percentage while compiling 58 hits and 38 RBIs. Junior utility player Vanessa Smoke batted .291 with 42 hits, 21 runs and 24 RBIs while sophomore Shay Lopes batted .273 with 35 hits and seven stolen bases. Junior infielder Destiny Conerly was an Honorable Mention All-GNAC choice while batting .325 with 28 hits and 30 runs.

Western Washington continued to be a well-rounded program, finishing second in the GNAC with a .291 batting average and 3.91 ERA. The Vikings led the conference with 442 hits, 88 doubles and 15 triples and were among the best fielding teams in Division II with a .969 fielding percentage.

The Vikings lose some key parts to the offensive puzzle but return a number of experienced starters. Senior catcher Rachel Christensen batted .261 with 24 hits and 10 RBIs. She also did her part to limit the opponent’s offense, throwing out 20 of 34 possible base stealers. Senior outfielder Taylor Khorrami batted .213 in 46 games last year while sophomore Kanilehua Pitoy hit .289 with 10 doubles and 16 RBIs.

Junior Sydney Brown was the Vikings’ top pitcher in 2022, ranking third in the GNAC with a 2.50 ERA. In 103.2 innings, Brown allowed just 46 hits, struck out 88 batters and ranked second in the conference with a .211 opponent batting average.

Central Washington placed fourth in the GNAC in the program’s first season under longtime Division I coach Joe DiPietro. The Wildcats finished with a .282 batting average and 4.26 ERA. The Wildcats will aim to move up in the standings with eight returning starters who all contributed at the plate.

Senior outfielder Allie Thiessen earned First Team All-GNAC honors after she finished eighth in the conference with a .358 batting average and 34 runs and ninth with 53 hits and a .429 on-base percentage. Senior catcher Alyssa Benthagen was also a First Team All-GNAC choice after she batted .313 with 47 hits, 11 home runs and 39 RBIs. Her .580 slugging percentage ranked eighth in the GNAC. Senior infielders Myiah Seaton and Harlee Carpenter were both named Honorable Mention All-GNAC as both players batted .289. Seaton finished with 41 hits, 18 RBIs and 10 stolen bases while Carpenter finished with 32 runs and 19 RBIs.

The Wildcats bring back one pitcher in senior Isabel Womack, who had seven wins in 22 appearances and 20 starts with a 4.19 ERA. She allowed 84 runs, struck out 70 and limited opponents to a .240 batting average.

Western Oregon will rely on a corps of eight returning position players and two starting pitchers to lead the way under interim head coach and program alumnae Aly Boytz, who took over after the retirement of Lonny Sargent. The Wolves finished 2022 batting .280 as a team, hitting 28 home runs and finishing third in the conference with 212 RBIs and a 3.85 ERA.

Senior second baseman Logan Carlos leads the returners. The First Team All-GNAC and All-West Region selection led the conference with 65 hits and a .678 slugging percentage and was third with a .380 batting average. She finished third in the GNAC with 37 runs scored and was tied for fourth with 10 home runs. Junior catcher Natalie Willoughby earned Second Team All-GNAC honors as she batted .355 with 50 hits. She tied for first in the conference with 11 home runs and was second to Carlos with a .674 slugging percentage.

In the circle, senior Maddie Mayer was named Second Team All-GNAC after she earned nine wins and compiled a 3.11 ERA in 17 starts. She struck out 83 and allowed opponents a .264 batting average. Senior Chelsey Smith finished with nine wins and a 3.81 ERA and had a .237 opponent batting average in 93.2 innings.

Montana State Billings is expected to inch up in the standings after finishing seventh in 2022 with 13 total wins. The Yellowjackets were one of the top power-hitting teams, leading the conference with 45 home runs and ranking 32nd in Division II with 0.96 home runs per game. They finished the year with a .245 batting average and a 4.76 ERA.

The Yellowjackets will aim to reload with just three returning position starters while bringing back all three starting pitchers. Senior third baseman Marin Penney was an Honorable Mention All-GNAC selection after batting .239 with 28 hits, six home runs and a .444 slugging percentage. Senior catcher Maycen O’Neal, the 2022 GNAC Newcomer of the Year, batted .240 with 29 hits and 20 RBIs. Senior pitcher Alyssa Etheridge was also an Honorable Mention All-GNAC choice after finishing with five wins and a 3.42 ERA in 23 appearances and 15 starts.

Despite tying for fifth last year with Western Oregon, Simon Fraser was the top-hitting team in the conference. In just 40 games, the Red Leafs led the conference with a .320 batting average and a .462 slugging percentage. Simon Fraser also excelled in putting the game in motion with a league-leading 57 stolen bases.

The Red Leafs are also looking to reload with the departure of four All-GNAC players. Sophomore outfielder Janique Balcaen leads the returns after she hit .333 as a freshman with 37 hits, nine doubles, 17 RBIs and a .468 slugging percentage. Junior outfielder Megan Dulcos batted .254 with 21 runs and 11 RBIs. Sophomore Shaneika Hollingworth leads two starting SFU pitchers with five wins and a 5.78 ERA.

The 2023 softball begins on Feb. 1 with Western Oregon hosting Bushnell for a doubleheader in Monmouth. All seven conference teams will be in action in tournaments in California and New Mexico beginning on Feb. 3. Conference play begins on Friday, Mar. 10 when Northwest Nazarene hosts Montana State Billings.

Pos. Team (1st Place Votes) Overall
GNAC Record
1. Northwest Nazarene (7) 35-21 18-6 (1st) 49
2. Saint Martin's 31-20 17-7 (2nd) 36
3. Western Washington 29-24 15-9 (3rd) 35
4. Central Washington 20-27 10-14 (4th) 32
5. Western Oregon 24-26 9-15 (tie 5th) 21
6. Montana State Billings 13-34 6-18 (7th) 12
7. Simon Fraser 18-22 9-15 (5th) 11

Votes awarded on 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis.
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