(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BURNABY, B.C. – Four years removed from playing her first Great Northwest Athletic series at Simon Fraser’s Beedie Field, Montana State University Billings fifth-year senior first baseman Brittanee Fisher stepped into the batter’s box in the fifth inning of her penultimate collegiate softball game. Her Yellowjackets already had a 5-3 advantage, but with Simon Fraser gradually chipping away at the lead, MSUB needed to put more runs on the board.
With 40 career home runs to her name and a team-high 38 hits this season, one would be hard-pressed to find a better player than Fisher for this situation.
Staring down SFU reliever Julia Hansen, Fisher fouled off the first pitch over the backstop. She laid off the second offering from Hansen, which was low and outside.
Then she made history.
Breaking Cameron Cassinelli’s MSUB record of 40 career home runs, Fisher’s 41st-career home run was a no-doubter. While the Yellowjacket dugout watched the ball carry over the left field fence, Fisher took a few steps towards first base and emphatically slammed down her bat before taking a memorable walk around the bases. Her teammates chanted “forty-one” as they spilled out of the dugout and crowded home plate. MSUB head coach Lisa McKinney jumped for joy. And once Fisher reached home plate to receive a heroine’s welcome, she said she felt relief.
“I think everyone watching the game knew that ball was gone as soon as it hit the bat,” Fisher said. “It felt awesome to have a no-doubter after hitting a lot of wall-scrapers this year. I just felt so relieved that I was able to pull through with the main goal I had for the season.”
Throughout Fisher’s final season, chasing her former teammate Cameron Cassinelli’s 40 career home runs was always on her mind. Fisher admitted there was a weight on her shoulders of sorts with the record in reach, making the pursuit more of a mental challenge than a physical one. But heading into the final series of the year against Simon Fraser (17-19, 8-12 GNAC), Fisher had a chance to relax and re-find her swing to make one more push at setting the record.
“The main thing that kept me motivated were some of Cam’s last words to me at the end of my freshman season,” Fisher said. “After she broke the record, she told me I was next. I knew that I had to prove her right.”
Fisher’s home run was one of three dingers the Yellowjackets (13-34, 6-18 GNAC) hit in the 8-5 game one victory over The season finale, by contrast, was a pitching duel, yet the ‘Jackets would settle for a series split with a 2-1, eight-inning loss.
“The team did a great job of working together throughout the weekend to come up with the split,” MSUB softball head coach Lisa McKinney said. “Our pitchers battled, the defense came up with good double plays and the offense found ways to score runs – all while our dugout stayed loud the entire weekend.”
Sunday’s game marked the final time MSUB’s six-woman senior class of Fisher, Allie Hughes, Sydney Norwood, Skyler Jenkins, Sidney Pollard and Morgan Quimby played together.
“Our seniors came up big for us this weekend,” McKinney said. “Sidney Pollard started the fourth game with a hit that was followed by Morgan Quimby’s, which allowed us to score a run in the season finale. Sydney Norwood also came up with a good hit and played good defense at first base in game one. Skyler Jenkins continued to play well in the outfield and behind the plate while hitting shots all weekend. And of course, Brittanee set the home run record.”
“This group has shown us how important it is to be a good teammate, versatility and resilience,” McKinney added.
MSUB finished with a 13-34 record – a three-win improvement over the 2021 season. The Yellowjackets are expected to bring back its entire pitching staff and five of its starters next year, but will need to find replacements in the outfield, middle infield and someone to fill Fisher’s shoes at first base.
“This has been the best five years of my life this far, and I would change them for the world,” Fisher said. “Between all the teammates I’ve had to the coaches I’ve played for, it’s been amazing to learn all that I have and grow into who I am today. The main thing I would take away from my time here is to enjoy everything because it goes by so fast, and when it’s over, there are no do-overs. Softball has turned me into a leader, an advocate, and an overall better person, and the voice and courage that it has given me is beyond anything I would have experienced by not playing. I’m so thankful for everything this program has given me and I will carry it with me for the rest of my life.”
Game 1: MSUB 8, SFU 5
Getting the start on her birthday, Preslee Christensen threw two strikeouts through two scoreless innings, then she got ample run support from her offense in the top of the third inning. She finished with a career-high four strikeouts while also throwing five first-pitch strikes.
“Preslee threw well today,” McKinney said. “She kept the batters off balance and got us a lot of good results for outs. Each time she has come out, she has gotten a little bit stronger, which will be great for her future here.”
After recording four hits in the first two innings, MSUB broke the game open with a five-run third inning. Lauren Blaschak hit a leadoff double in the top of the third, then Brie Frazier reached base on a chopper that SFU third baseman Alex Ogg couldn’t cleanly field. With SFU starter Anissa Zacharzuk cornered, Payton Meyer’s RBI single through the left side brought Blaschak home and put the ‘Jackets up 1-0. Brittanee Fisher’s one-out RBI single would make it a 2-0 game, then Marin Penney blew the game open with a three-run home run to put MSUB up 5-0.
SFU would chip away at the lead with an RBI single in the third inning, then a two-out, 2 RBI single from Alex Ogg in the bottom of the fourth, but Finkelstein’s grounder to Blaschak ended the rally. This brought up the ‘Jackets for a memorable fifth inning that featured Fisher’s record-breaking 41st career home run.
“Britt’s record-setting home run was a no-doubter,” McKinney said. “I jumped for joy immediately. A few tears came out as well because we all knew how bad she has wanted the record.”
With a 6-3 lead and all the momentum in MSUB’s favor, Jenna Kister relieved Christensen in the bottom of the fifth. Despite throwing only 11 pitches in a scoreless frame, Kister was able to hold off SFU’s aggressive hitters and strand two runners in scoring position.
The defense would come up with another big play in the bottom of the sixth, as Maycen O’Neal gunned down SFU’s Megan Duclos as she tried to steal second base. But Simon Fraser would do more damage with two outs and score two more runs to make it a 6-5 ballgame.
Luckily for MSUB, O’Neal would come through with another big play in the top of the seventh. Brie Frazier got aboard with a single, then Payton Meyer’s sacrifice fly sent Frazier to second. O’Neal then clobbered her fifth home run of the year to right-center field for two much-needed insurance runs for the ‘Jackets.
“Both Marin Penney and Maycen O’Neal came up with clutch home runs to help us extend the lead,” McKinney said.
Playing with an 8-5 lead, MSUB put the clamps down on SFU’s comeback attempt in the bottom of the seventh. Although the Simon Fraser softball team loaded the bases with Janique Balcaen’s leadoff double, Rebecca Kirkpatrick getting hit by a pitch, and Georgia Ogg’s single, Alyssa Etheridge came in to close out the game. The junior shook off Ogg’s single, recorded two-straight swinging strikeouts and retired Alex Ogg on a fly-out to center field, giving MSUB the 8-5 win.
Christensen (1-1) got her first-career win by striking out four batters, walking none and giving up three earned runs on eight hits in 4.0 innings of work. Alyssa Etheridge earned the second save of her career by striking out two of the four batters she faced in the seventh inning. SFU starter Anissa Zacharczuk (10-9) took the loss after giving up five runs on seven hits in a 2.2-inning day.
Game 2: SFU 2, MSUB 1 (8 innings)
Unlike game one, the season finale was a pitching duel between Alyssa Etheridge and SFU’s Shaneika Hollingworth, who gave up a combined seven hits before the game headed into extra innings.
After Etheridge pitched a three-up, three-down inning in the bottom of the first, MSUB took an early lead in the top of the second. The Yellowjackets strung together a pair of hits in the top of the second with singles from Sidney Pollard and Morgan Quimby before starting right-fielder Shelby Marquardt’s two-out RBI single gave MSUB a 1-0 lead.
The Simon Fraser softball team would tie the game in the bottom of the third with a two-out RBI of its own. After loading the bases, Chelsea Hotner’s sacrifice fly scored Caitlin Zagari.
From that point forward, both teams traded scoreless innings.
While MSUB’s lone baserunner was a two-out walk from Skyler Jenkins in the top of the fourth, Simon Fraser would strand two runners in scoring position in the next three innings. Megan Duclos would draw a one-out walk and steal second, but Etheridge’s fourth strikeout ended the inning with no damage done. In the next inning, Hotner doubled and put pressure on the defense again.
But Brie Frazier helped turn an inning-ending double play by catching Janique Balcaen’s line drive to left field, then rocketing the ball to Quimby, who tagged Hotner out as she took too long of a lead off second base.
“Both Alyssa and the defense did well today,” McKinney said. “I though they played the ball well and didn’t try to do too much. Alyssa continued to attack the zone and allow her defense to make good plays.”
Threatening to walk it off, Rebecca Kirkpatrick’s long double to left field nearly cleared the fence. But Marin Penney sprinted in from third to catch Georgia Ogg’s bunt, then a pop up to Brittanee Fisher and Etheridge’s fifth strikeout sent the game into the eighth inning.
MSUB couldn’t get anything going in the top of the eighth, bringing up the Simon Fraser softball team for another potential walk-off. This time, SFU would hit back-to-back singles to open the inning, then a fielding error on Hotner’s chopper down the right field line brought Alex Ogg home.
Etheridge (5-10) took the tough-luck loss after striking out six batters, walking four and giving up one earned run on five hits in her ninth complete game of the year. Hollingworth (4-3) would get the win after giving up one earned run on four hits, striking out one batter and walking another in eight innings of work.