(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – The Montana State University Billings softball team mustered another late rally in a close game two, yet the Yellowjackets dropped both games in the series finale against Western Washington in 9-1, 2-1 contests at Avitus Group Stadium on Sunday.
The losses dropped the Yellowjackets (10-20, 4-8 GNAC) in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings, while the Vikings (17-13, 6-2 GNAC) swept MSUB for the first time since 2019.
“We talked to the girls about remembering the good and feeding off of the good things they did this weekend while letting go of the bad things a little bit sooner,” MSUB head coach Lisa McKinney said. “I felt like we held on to the last two games of the Western Oregon series going into yesterday’s games, but I thought they did a good job of adjusting from that. Hopefully we’ll let go of the things that didn’t go well and build off of the things that we did do well during this weekend.”
Although MSUB played better defense on day one, committing only one error to WWU’s four, yet Western Washington hit five home runs across both games. MSUB’s offense in game one came courtesy of senior first baseman Brittanee Fisher crushing a home run to center field in the second inning; in game two, Jazlyn Kalehuawehe’s RBI single brought pinch-runner Brie Frazier home from second in the sixth inning.
Game 1: WWU 9, MSUB 1 (6 innings)
Four home runs from Western Washington made the difference in game one; the Vikings got seven of their nine runs off the long ball, while Brittanee Fisher’s solo shot to center field was the only offense for MSUB.
Leading off the bottom of the second inning, Brittanee Fisher got ahead 2-1 in the count, then smashed the next pitch over center field to tie the game at one-all.
“I thought Brittanee had really great at-bats all day,” McKinney said. “She came up big with that home run on the changeup in the first game. I really like to see us answer right back with a run after they scored a run. She’s been battling hard in the box, and she’s going to find the holes.”
Allie Hughes made a diving catch in right field to fire up the defense in the third inning. Yet WWU singled on the next at-bat and took a 3-1 lead on Dakota Brooks’ home run to left field. MSUB would put two runners aboard in the next half-inning with Skyler Jenkins’ single and Maycen O’Neal reaching on a fielding error by WWU’s shortstop, but the Vikings maintained a 3-1 lead over the next two innings.
Julia Qualteri relieved Alyssa Etheridge in the fifth inning and the Vikings pounced, taking a 6-1 lead off a three-run home run from Chantelle Shimabukuro. MSUB tried getting something going in the bottom of the fifth, cornering WWU’s Sydney Brown off a single from Pollard and O’Neal reaching on a fielder’s choice, but the ‘Jackets couldn’t score.
“I think the offense made a plan early on to chase balls in the strike zone and laying off the high pitches,” McKinney said. “That’s what made us more successful today, and I think we made the adjustment early in game one by getting baserunners on early.”
WWU would put an early end to the game in the top of the sixth, as the Vikings batted around and took a 9-1 lead off RBI singles and a throwing error. MSUB worked two full counts in long at-bats to try to stay alive, yet they went down in order in the bottom of the sixth to end the game.
Etheridge (4-7) was credited with the loss after striking out three batters and fiving up six earned runs on nine hits in 4.1 innings. Sydney Brown (5-2) was credited with the win after striking out eight batters and giving up one earned run in all six innings of work.
Game 2: WWU 2, MSUB 1
Aside from giving up an RBI single to Chantelle Shimabukaro in the first inning and Shimabukaro’s solo home run in the top of the fourth, starter Jenna Kister and the Yellowjacket defense held off the Vikings long enough for the offense to make a comeback in the low-scoring affair.
MSUB wasted no time getting its first baserunner of the game in the bottom of the fourth, as Skyler Jenkins worked a full count and drew a leadoff walk, then Maycen O’Neal’s one-out walk put two runners aboard. Brittanee Fisher got aboard on a fielder’s choice to corner WWU starter Kira Doan with two outs, yet Doan got out of trouble in the first.
In spite of a leadoff home run in the top of the fourth, Jenkins made the defensive highlight of the game three batters later. The senior centerfielder ran from from right-center field towards deep left field, slid and caught Emily Paulson’s would-be extra-base hit just before it hit the grass. Three pitches later, Kister and the ‘Jackets would get out of the inning unscathed.
“Jenna did a good job of locating the ball, keeping it low in the zone and helping us getting a lot of ground ball and fly ball results,” McKinney said. “I thought the defense played really strong behind her with a couple great highlights from Allie Hughes and Skyler making a dive out in center field. I also thought Sidney Pollard made some really great plays up the middle. I’m really proud of Jenna and how she came out today to throw a complete game.”
Jenkins’ stellar defensive play in the outfield motivated the bats to get going in the next half-inning. Jazlyn Kalehuawehe won the footrace to first and reached base with one out, then Payton Meyer singled up the left side on the fifth pitch she saw to move pinch-runner Claire Bagnell to second. Marin Penney’s long fly ball to center field nearly left the yard, yet her sacrifice fly moved both runners into scoring position. However, MSUB would come up empty in the bottom of the fourth.
WWU’s Tatum Dow led off the top of the fifth with a single, but the ‘Jacket defense had a double play on its mind throughout the fifth inning. MSUB’s middle infield nearly turned two on the next at-bat, as Marin Penney secured Lauren Lo’s single up the third base line, got the lead runner out at second, then Sydney Norwood’s valiant effort to stretch at first nearly finished off the Vikings. Penney and Quimby got the lead-runner out on a similar play at the next at-bat, leaving one WWU runner on first with two outs. The Vikings would put runners on first and second on a walk, yet Jenkins caught a routine pop fly to center field to hold the Vikings scoreless again.
“Overall, I thought we made better plays on defense in both games,” McKinney said. “I thought the defense came out strong, was playing confidently and was aggressive.”
The top of the sixth was a quick, but adventurous one. Rylie Wales flew out to center field on the first pitch, then Hughes made a mad dash to foul territory to snag a pop fly at the fence, then Kister jumped to catch a high comebacker to end the inning.
Then the ‘Jackets broke through in the bottom of the sixth. O’Neal reached on a grounder to third that WWU’s Kanilehua Pitoy couldn’t quite handle, bringing up Fisher. Fisher worked a 2-2 count, fouled off the next three pitches, then grounded out to Pitoy at third. Yet Fisher did enough to move pinch-runner Brie Frazer into scoring position. On the first pitch she saw, Kalehuawehe singled up the middle, then Frazier used her speed and a good turn at third to slide home and beat the tag.
“Brie has been working really hard at practice and she had an awesome turn at third,” McKinney said. “And she’s always been quick, so it was really big for Jazzy to hit it up the middle with the defense playing us at the fence. It was a good job by Jazzy to hit a ball on the ground and make the defense work, and it was a great job by Brie to have a good jump and a really tight turn at third to score the run.”
Kister worked around a leadoff double in the top of the seventh, then got out of the inning on 12 pitches to bring up the offense once more. Needing one run to keep the game alive in the bottom of the seventh, the Yellowjackets went down in order. WWU starter Kira Doan (6-4) got the win for pitching a complete game with six strikeouts and one earned run on four hits.
UP NEXT: The Yellowjackets have a brief reprieve from GNAC play, as the team will play in the Tournament of Champions, hosted by Stanislaus State University in Turlock, Calif. from April 1-3. MSUB’s first of five games in the tournament will be against Cal State San Bernardino out of the CCAA on Friday, April 1 at 9 a.m. PT.