Douglas High graduate and Northwest Nazarene Nighthawk Haden Keller slides into second base during a game this season. Keller and the Nighthawks won their conference title this spring before qualifying for the Div. II College World Series in Cary, North Carolina.
Courtesy NNU Athletics
Haden Keller’s return to Northwest Nazarene University turned into quite an experience in early June.
Under head coach Joe Schaefer, Keller transferred back into the Nighthawk program from Mendocino College.
Northwest Nazarene posted a 35-10 record this spring and Keller put together a .358 batting average in 34 games played.
The junior hit four homers with 25 RBIs over the course of the season and helped the Nighthawks not only win a Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) title, but earn a trip to the Div. II College World Series.
“Ever since we got shutdown last year, we had a really strong start to that season,” said Keller. “As soon as all of our guys decided to come back for one more year, everybody was all-in. We had a feeling we were going to be a pretty special team.”
The Douglas High graduate said he had yet to play on a team that had so much internal belief and confidence going into every matchup.
Keller missed 10 or 11 games early in the season with a broken right foot that came from a foul ball that ricocheted off his own bat.
“I’ve never been injured or had to miss games before so the first weekend was kind of nice,” said Keller. “By the second weekend, I was getting the itch.”
Getting to the Div. II College World Series was certainly special for the Nighthawks, but rebounding from a loss in the Western Regional carries the fondest memories.
NNU dropped its first regional game to Western Oregon, 2-1, but faced off against the Wolves again to determine which squad was heading to North Carolina.
The Nighthawks had to beat WOU twice in order to advance and took the first game in come-from-behind, walk-off fashion.
“They (WOU) were one out away from sealing their own destiny,” said Keller. “Right after that, we all kind of knew we were going to win.”
NNU took the second game 12-6 and the celebration was on.
It was the Nighthawks first-ever NCAA tournament appearance and NNU went 1-2 in North Carolina before getting knocked out by the University of Tampa, 5-2.
Summer baseball and next season
Keller is still playing baseball this summer.
The soon-to-be collegiate senior is playing collegiate summer league in Alaska for the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks, outside of Anchorage.
“I got up here as soon as I could,” said Keller. “I came up here two summers ago and I like it a lot. That’s why I’m up here right now.”
Keller will head back to Nampa, Idaho for one final season next fall and though the Nighthawks have lost several seniors, he’s optimistic for another shot at an NCAA tournament appearance.
“I just hope everyone comes back with that same intent,” said Keller. “The incoming guys are going to be wanting the same goals as us.”
Keller continues to study wildlife biology/ecology and talks of potentially one day returning to Alaska for work, if the opportunity presents itself