Crusader baseball claims first-ever GNAC championship
They charged out of the dugout and celebrated in a dog-pile on the infield grass at Elmore Vail Field. Head Coach Rocke Musgraves got the winner’s ritual Gatorade shower during post-game interviews with the newspaper and local TV.
“It’s great to be champions!” The Northwest Nazarene University baseball team celebrated a sweep of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference titles after a 9-8 victory over Western Oregon on May 13 in the GNAC baseball tournament hosted by NNU. The Crusaders (30-21 overall) earned the right to host by sharing the regular-season GNAC crown with Montana State Billings and winning a tie-breaker.
This was a very sweet victory celebration for NNU, which claimed its first-ever GNAC title with a dramatic win that capped a remarkable season. This was the year that saw the Crusader program win its third most games ever and, obviously, post its best-ever finish in the GNAC.
With the wins came the accolades, too, as head coach Rocke Musgraves was named GNAC Coach of the Year, and senior second baseman Tyler Davis—who who led the GNAC with 15 home runs, including a two-run shot that proved to be the championship game-winner—was named GNAC Player of the Year.
Davis and teammates Ryan Johnson—the GNAC Tournament MVP who went 7-of-14 with a home run and four RBIs in the postseason—and Andrew Helmstadter all were named First Team All-GNAC, while pitcher Colton Loomis and shortstop Tucker Campbell were Second Team All-GNAC, and pitchers Ross Clevenger and Ryan Nyborg were Honorable Mention All-GNAC.
Johnson, who redshirted during the 2015 season after knee surgery, led the GNAC in stolen bases (20) and Nyborg led the conference in saves (9). This exciting season also included Loomis’ once-in-a-lifetime effort on the hill as the senior right-hander threw the fifth no-hitter in Crusader baseball history, a 4-0 victory at Azusa Pacific on Feb. 19.
Another highlight, and possibly the biggest key to the Crusaders title run, was the team’s flair for the dramatic comeback. Twice in the final month of the season NNU erased 8-0 deficits to score victories, and two other games in the final month ended with the “Comeback Crusaders” scoring walk-off wins.
It seemed only fitting that in the title game NNU would erase a 6-2 deficit against the perennial GNAC champion Wolves, who claimed either the regular-season or GNAC Tournament title all 14 years of the league’s existence prior to this season—a dramatic finish to what NNU baseball hopes will be the first of many championship seasons to come.