NAMPA — They were swept in a doubleheader, victims of the scorching bats of Montana State Billings.They slipped even further in the GNAC standings, now staring at a daunting deficit to clinch a playoff berth.

But forget all of that. On Saturday at Vail Field, among a sea of pink T-shirts and an array of smiles and colorful balloons, the Northwest Nazarene Crusaders were victors on Cancer Awareness Day.

Never mind the 8-2 and 16-0 defeats on the baseball diamond.

Saturday was a success in the game of life.

“I don’t care what a scoreboard said today — we won today,” said NNU coach Tim Onofrei. “We’ll choose to remember how we started the day, with the celebration. And that’s because of what we had to endure this year.

“That was a chance to reflect on people’s lives, and even our own tragedies in our program.”

Tyson Flannery and Jamie Mitchell both lost a grandfather this month, Barak Frank endured a couple of deaths throughout the year — including an infant niece — and Onofrei has a mother and mother-in-law dealing with a form of cancer.

In fact, 60 percent of the Crusaders players have been affected by the deadly disease.

But Saturday helped the healing process, another form of togetherness for a team that’s produced spirited seventh-inning comebacks and walk-off victories throughout the year.

“I will forever remember this team, because of what they do together,” said Onofrei, whose team has a four-game series at Saint Martin’s on May 3-4 and is still mathematically alive for the GNAC playoffs.

“We’re gonna celebrate what happened this morning, keep our heads held high.”

In the 16-0 nightcap, back-to-back five-run innings by the Yellow Jackets (18-24 overall, 14-13 GNAC) plagued the Crusaders (20-25, 11-17). By that time, a vast majority of the morning’s attendance already departed after they witnessed memorable scenes prior to the opening game.

They saw three ceremonial pitches delivered by women who fit the day’s theme — Live, Care, Cure.

They saw the shaving of NNU junior Logan Parker’s 10-inch red hair, donated to Locks of Love.

They heard tear-jerking stories about cancer survivors and miracles, read by Onofrei.

And of course, they absorbed the picturesque scene with fellow parents, students, players, faculty and friends who surrounded the infield, each holding a color-coded balloon to signify the specific cancer that’s affected them.

When Francis Scott Key’s special song blared across the PA system, they collectively launched them into the Nampa skies — a tribute, a memory, a sense of closure maybe — as the balloons sailed toward Heaven.

“There’s a lot of meanings that went through people’s minds,” Onofrei said. “I think that’s special to do it as a collective body, as a community here.”

As for those ceremonial pitches?

The “live” pitch was tossed by Laura Ames, who was recently diagnosed with a disease.

The “care” pitch was thrown by Julie Wiebe, honoring the care-giving for her late husband, Mike, a pastor who died on Easter Sunday.

And the “cure” was tossed by Jeanie Allen, who was told last spring that she had less than a year to live, multiple tumors inside her.

Today, she’s disease free.

“I shook her hand last year, knowing she wasn’t going to be here again,” Onofrei said. “She wasn’t supposed to be here.

“Just an incredible story.”

The players wore pink helmets and pink jerseys and sprinted through the batter’s box toward the pink bases.

The end result of their baseball games may not have been favorable, but the ceremony was a grand slam.

“Cancer Day was good,” said NNU’s Charlie Gorzo, a senior named after his grandfather, who died from the disease.

“That’s a special thing. And it’s a good thing if you’re getting money for charity.”


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