Nighthawks In, Everything Else In Play Over Final Week
Tori Hensley batted .455 in four games and went 1-0 in her two starts in the circle to help lead Northwest Nazarene to the series win over Saint Martin's.
Tori Hensley batted .455 in four games and went 1-0 in her two starts in the circle to help lead Northwest Nazarene to the series win over Saint Martin's.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

NIGHTHAWKS LOCKED IN: The only certain thing in the GNAC Championships picture entering the final week of the regular season was that Northwest Nazarene was guaranteed a spot.

In a showdown of the two top teams in the standings last week, the Nighthawks took three of four games from Saint Martin’s. After dropping the opener on Friday, 2-1, NNU rebounded to score a 6-5 win in the nightcap. Trailing 5-3 going into the sixth inning, junior Sidney Booth delivered a two-run single to the game before junior Madison Felter delivered a solo homer in the seventh to win it.

Northwest Nazarene won Saturday’s opener 4-1, bouncing back from a 1-0 first-inning deficit to score two runs in the home half to back up a one-run, five-hit performance in the circle from Booth. In the nightcap, senior Tori Hensley threw an eight-hit shutout while sophomore Clarissa Moreno delivered a solo homer in the fifth inning for the 1-0 victory.

With the wins, Northwest Nazarene clinched a berth in the GNAC Championships and no less than a share of its third straight GNAC regular-season title. The Nighthawks own the best ERA in the conference and the 28th best in Division II at 2.21 and are batting .277 entering their final series at Western Oregon on Friday and Saturday.

Hensley enters the week ranked third in the GNAC with a 2.05 ERA and fourth with a .373 batting average. She ranks seventh in Division II in toughest to strike out at 47.3. Booth ranks fourth in the conference with a 2.14 ERA and is second with 14 wins on the season.

VIKINGS SHIFT INTO DRIVE AT NEUTRAL SITE: Wet weather forced Western Washington to move its four-game series against Montana State Billings to Yakima, Washington. In the end, the move did little to stop the Vikings’ momentum as they swept the Yellowjackets to move into fourth place in the conference standings.

The Vikings won 4-2 in Saturday’s opener, scoring two runs in the first inning and two more on junior Isabel Cargill’s two-run double in the third inning. Western Washington used a four-run second inning to pull away in the nightcap as freshman Hailey Rath went 2 for 4 with a two-RBI double en route to the 7-3 victory.

On Sunday, WWU rode a three-hit shutout by senior Mareena Ramirez and two hits from Rath for the 2-0 win in the opener. The Yellowjackets came back from behind to tie things at 3-3 in the sixth inning of game two before Rath hit a one-out RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to secure the 4-3 victory.

With the win, and thanks to a number of games from earlier in the season being shifted due to inclement weather, the Vikings could find themselves qualified for the GNAC Championships before the two teams ahead of them in the standings. Western Washington closes the regular season with a rain make-up doubleheader at Saint Martin’s on Wednesday.

The sweep of Montana State Billings also yielded both GNAC Players of the Week for the Vikings. Cargill received GNAC Player of the Week honors after she batted .600 in the series, going 9 for 15 with two doubles, a run scored and two RBIs. Ramirez was tabbed as the GNAC Pitcher of the Week after she allowed just two unearned runs on seven hits and struck out 12 in 14 innings.

Ramirez currently leads the GNAC with a 1.96 ERA and 15 wins. She ranks 31st in Division II with 156 strikeouts. Rath is the Vikings’ leading hitter, ranking sixth in the GNAC with a .416 batting average. Western Washington leads the conference with a .302 batting average.

SAINTS MARCHING THROUGH FINAL THIRD OF SEASON: No team has been more affected by the wet spring weather pattern than Saint Martin’s, which is playing one-third of its conference games in the final week of the season.

The Saints did not have many answers for a stout Northwest Nazarene team last weekend. Saint Martin’s won Friday’s opener 2-1 with freshman Shelby Lawson bunting home the winning run in the fourth inning. Saint Martin’s rallied in game two to take a 5-3 lead in the fifth on junior Megan Convery’s two-run double but could not hold off the Nighthawks’ rally over the final two innings in a 6-5 loss.

Saint Martin’s dropped both games on Saturday, falling 4-1 in the opener and 1-0 in the nightcap despite a solid one-run, six-hit effort in the circle by junior Abby Runyon. The only run came via a solo home run.

The losses dropped the Saints to third place in the conference but jumped right back into second with a sweep of a rain make-up doubleheader with Western Oregon on Tuesday. In the first game, which was the completion of a halted game from March 11, the Saints held off a four-run rally over the final two innings to win 9-7.

In the second game, junior Tia Ridings allowed one run on five hits over 5.1 innings while sophomore Chloe Leverington picked up her 10th save of the season in a 4-1 victory. Freshman Haley Agena went 2 for 3 to lead the offense.

The Saints close the regular season by hosting Western Washington in a rain make-up doubleheader on Wednesday before playing four games at Central Washington on Saturday.

The Saints enter the final six games with a .288 batting average and a 3.29 ERA. Agena leads the conference with her .444 batting average while Leverington ranks second in Division II with her 10 saves.

WOLVES AIMING FOR POSTSEASON RETURN: Western Oregon hopes to pick up some wins this weekend against Northwest Nazarene to return to the GNAC Championships for the first time since 2021.

Some wins would go a long way to make the goal a reality and to stop a rough patch for the Wolves in the month of April. Western Oregon has lost six of its last seven games. The only victory in the stretch was a 9-0, five-inning win at Montana State Billings on April 15. The Wolves lost three of four games in that series, including two where the Yellowjackets won on seventh-inning game-winning hits.

The Wolves’ strength is in the circle, where they rank second in the conference with a 3.06 ERA. Senior Maddie Mayer leads the way, ranking second in the GNAC with a 2.00 ERA and .226 opponent batting average with a 13-9 record. Senior Chelsey Smith is 10th in the GNAC with a .326 ERA while limiting opposing batters to a .229 average.

WILDCATS RALLYING: Central Washington kept its GNAC Championships hopes alive by taking three of four games at Simon Fraser on Monday and Tuesday. How they clinched the series, however, was a bit unconventional.

The Wildcats went extra innings to win both games on Monday, breaking the game open in the eighth inning of both games with impressive offensive efforts. The opener was tied 5-5 before CWU went off for six runs in the top of the eighth. The Wildcats sent 11 batters to the plate with senior Allie Thiessen delivering the biggest blow when she hit into a fielder’s choice that allowed two runs to score.

The score was tied 2-2 in the second game when the Wildcats tallied eight runs in the top of the eighth. It was Thiessen who again made the most noise, this time with a bases-clearing triple, while sophomore Sasha Mitchell delivered a two-run single.

After Simon Fraser took Tuesday’s opener 4-3, Central Washington did not leave the finale to chance, tallying a nine-run third inning en route to the 10-1, five-inning win. Senior Myiah Seaton punctuated the frame with a grand slam.

The Wildcats enter its four-game series with Saint Martin’s this weekend with a .262 batting average and a 3.48 ERA. Senior Alyssa Benthagen is fifth in the GNAC with a .358 batting average while senior Ashlee Laver is fifth in the conference with a 2.66 ERA.

RED LEAFS, YELLOWJACKETS CLOSE OUT SEASON: Simon Fraser and Montana State Billings will conclude their 2023 seasons with a four-game series in Billings on Saturday and Sunday.

The headline for the Red Leafs is to see where junior Megan Duclos will end up in terms of stolen bases. The GNAC single-season record holder has 38 stolen bases in 39 games. Duclos did not have a stolen base attempt in the Central Washington series, the longest streak this season where she has not stolen a base. Duclos stole five bases in Simon Fraser’s previous series against Saint Martin’s.