Evan O’Kelly, MSUB Athletics
NEWBERG, Ore. – For the second straight day of baseball, the Montana State University Billings baseball team came within a whisker of tying the game in the final inning, but the Yellowjackets fell 8-7 in Game 1 of a Great Northwest Athletic Conference doubleheader against Western Oregon University Monday afternoon at Morse Athletic Complex on the campus of George Fox University.
With two outs in the top of the ninth in Game 1, MSUB’s Kade Hall was cut down at home on a throw from the outfield to end the game with the ‘Jackets coming up just short. WOU came back with a convincing 7-0 lead in Game 2, before play was halted after the top of the sixth inning due to darkness. The final game will be resumed during WOU’s visit to Billings on April 14-15.
The ‘Jackets fell to 2-11 overall and 0-3 in league play, as their losing skid reached six games with the loss. WOU meanwhile moved to 4-3 with the wins and is off to a perfect 3-0 start in conference action.
Michael Gahan went 4-for-4 with a double, home run, and four RBIs in Game 1, to lead MSUB offensively on the day.
Game 1 – Western Oregon 8, MSU Billings 7
Gahan got the scoring started with his first-career home run in the second inning, and Casey Merritt followed with an RBI-single after a triple by Caje Golden.
MSUB starter Steen Fredrickson put up zeroes through the first two frames, working around an error and a base hit to strand a pair of runners in the second.
The Wolves broke the game open with a seven-run third inning however, using five walks and four singles in the inning to take a 7-2 advantage. The big frame provided WOU starter Craig Grubbe with some breathing room, as he silenced MSUB’s offense into the fifth inning.
Conner Linebarger ripped a single into right field to score Hall, and Gahan launched a two-run double to left to get MSUB back into the game down 7-5 in the fifth. An ensuing walk issued by Grubbe ended the junior’s day, as he allowed five runs on nine hits with three walks and a strikeout in 4 2/3 innings.
Tristan Shockley was a big reason MSUB remained close through the middle innings, as the junior right-hander tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. He, Jared Winslow, and Garrett Helfrich combined to allow just one run over the final four innings of the game.
Gahan’s fourth RBI of the game came on a bases-loaded walk in the sixth inning, but WOU reliever Alex Roth struck out the next hitter to leave the bases loaded with Yellowjackets.
A throwing error by the Wolves set up MSUB with another scoring chance and an opportunity to tie the game in the seventh, in the first of Ryan Myers’ two dramatic at bats. The junior skied a fly ball deep to center field, and the ‘Jackets watched as a potential two-run double was erased when Forrest Garcia crashed into the wall to make the catch.
WOU carried the momentum into the bottom of the frame, as Jay Leverett led off with a double and Jacob Martinez followed with a two-base hit to make the score 8-6.
MSUB’s final chance in the ninth started with a walk to Merritt and the fourth walk of the game drawn by Hall. With the tying run on first and two outs, Myers drove another hit into right field. Merritt crossed the plate, but Hall was cut down on a relay throw from Martinez in right to Leverett at second to Justin Wakem at home to dramatically end the game with a play at the plate.
Martinez, Wakem, and Leverett each had a pair of hits in the game for WOU, and Kade Mechals locked up the save by recording the final three outs. Roth was solid out of the ‘pen for WOU, striking out four and allowing no runs on three hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings.
Game 2 *HALTED, BOTTOM 6* – Western Oregon 7, MSU Billings 0
WOU starter Trey Smith was stellar in six innings, allowing no runs on three hits with four strikeouts and a walk. The senior lefty was backed by a Wolves offense that scored consistently with runs in each of the first four innings.
Niles Nygaard had an RBI-single in the first, and Martinez added to his big day at the plate with a two-run double in the second. The third WOU run of the second inning scored on a throwing error, making the score 4-0 in favor of the host.
MSUB starter Bryon Baker worked out of trouble in the third, striking out the final two hitters he faced while giving up a single run and stranding two more Wolves on the bases. Back-to-back walks in the fourth ended Baker’s day however, and Koty Fallon supplied a two-out, two-run single to blow the game open and give WOU a 7-0 lead.
Baker struck out three and walked seven, allowing seven runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings pitched.
Smith didn’t allow a runner past second base until the fifth inning, when he stranded Matt Dillon on third after a leadoff double. He set himself up for the win by retiring the side in the order in the sixth, leaving MSUB with three outs to work with when the game is completed next month at Dehler Park.
THE BUZZ: Gahan was tabbed as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the day…Hall tied a school record for walks in a game, matching a total posted by Kevin Toon on March 13, 2015 and Brian Dukart on March 20, 2009…WOU is now 61-19 all-time against MSUB…the games were originally scheduled to be played at WOU’s field in Monmouth, Ore., but were moved to the turf surface at George Fox University (NCAA D3) due to unplayable conditions.
COMING UP: MSUB heads north to Lacey, Wash., to take on Saint Martin’s University in a four-game series this weekend. Doubleheaders are scheduled for 2 p.m. Mountain time both Friday and Saturday