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Nighthawks mount improbable comeback at West Regionals; Salsman hits walk-off home run

Northwest Nazarene was down to their final strike twice in an elimination game at the NCAA DII West Regional before rallying back with a five-run ninth inning.

NAMPA, Idaho — The Northwest Nazarene baseball team completed an improbable comeback from their season at Vail Field on Friday. The Nighthawks entered the bottom of the ninth inning trailing Western Oregon 5-2, and had just one hit in the entire game.

Wolves closer Alan Vasquez made quick work of the first two batters in the inning, bringing NNU freshman outfield Grant Kerry to the plate with two outs. The former Boise State baseball player turned GNAC Newcomer of the Year managed to fight on a two-strike single into centerfield.

It was just the second hit of the game for the Nighthawks.

Senior catcher Ben Johnson, who was 0-for-3 with three strikeouts at that point, then followed with a two-strike, two-out single of his own, this one a line drive into right field.

It brought John Gonzalez to the plate at the potential tying run. Despite his enormous power potential, it was hard to ignore that Gonzalez was 1-for-11 with 10 strikeouts at the NCAA DII West Regionals at that point.

After taking the first pitch for a strike, Gonzalez hit a fastball to straight-away left field for a game-tying three-run home run.

"I just told myself if I get up, I'm going to be ready," Gonzalez said. "I was like, 'I'm going to do this. I'm going to do this no matter what.' I was looking for my pitch, I got my pitch, and I wasn't going to miss it."

Two batters later, with a man on first, junior transfer Alex Salsman then sent a game-winning two-run home run over the wall in right-center field, as NNU beat Western Oregon 7-5 in walk-off fashion.

"He was in the lineup for that very reason," head coach Joe Schaefer explained, "Because he's got the chance to leave the yard at any time."

"I always wanted to make my mark here back in the city and make sure my name was known," Salsman said. "I'm just happy to be a part of such a great ballclub."

The win extends the Nighthawks' season at least one more game. Due to the double-elimination style of the tournament, NNU has to beat the Wolves twice in order to advance to the NCAA DII College World Series for the first time in school history.

NNU and Western Oregon will play once more in a winner-take-all elimination game at Vail Field on Saturday.

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