(MSU Billings release)
ST. GEORGE, Utah – Ryan Myers delivered a pair of home runs and the Montana State University Billings baseball team completed a 3-1 road trip with a 14-11 triumph over No. 15 Dixie State University Saturday afternoon at Bruce Hurst Field.
The Yellowjackets (3-1) are off to the best start in program history, after scoring a whopping 52 runs over their first four games of the year (13 runs per game). Dixie State moved to 2-2 on the year with the defeat.
Myers finished the day 3-for-5 with three RBIs and three runs scored, and Conner Linebarger hit his first homer of the year while finishing 3-for-6 with three RBIs and two runs. Jalen Garcia, Michael Gahan, and Hayden Humphrey each also had multiple hits as the ‘Jackets racked up 16 knocks over the nine innings.
“Last year after this trip we had a bad feeling in our stomachs, and we expected something like this performance this time around,” commented MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “This is a good club we just played up against and I’m really excited about our team moving forward.”
Tanner Cantwell made his first start in a Yellowjacket uniform, giving up four runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and only one walk in 4 2/3 innings pitched. “Having Tanner bounce back was big, and he wanted the rock,” said Sutton after the junior failed to record an out in his MSUB debut on Thursday out of the bullpen. “We gave it to him and he produced.”
After three scoreless innings, the ‘Jackets jumped on DSU starter Brayden Bonner and chased him from the game with a six-run fourth inning. Myers led off the frame with his first home run of the year, a solo shot to left to get MSUB on the board. Michael Gahan singled to load the bases, and a walk by Caje Golden and a sacrifice fly by Kade Hall made it a 3-0 ballgame.
Linebarger cleaned up the bases and doubled MSUB’s tally with his first long ball of the season, as MSUB made it four straight games being the first team to score. “Conner got comfortable at the end of yesterday and looked great at the plate today,” Sutton commented on the junior, whose three outs on the day were all solid line drives. “He is a very versatile player this year who has been productive for us, and for him it’s just about being comfortable in the box.”
Gahan brought home a run with a ground out in the fifth, but DSU began a game-changing rally as it scored eight runs over the next two innings.
Jake Engel capped the four-run fifth with a two-out, two-run single that prompted Sutton to pull Cantwell one out shy of qualifying for the win. Kyle Hoffman had a two-run double in the sixth, and after a wild pitch and an RBI-ground out by Logan Porter the Trailblazers were within two runs down 10-8.
The middle of the order got it done for the ‘Jackets in the seventh inning, with a pair of insurance runs to give the bullpen some breathing room. Jalen Garcia punched a two-out single up the middle, and Myers drilled his second home run of the game over the center-field fence. “Ryan is a very smart hitter, who takes what you give him,” said Sutton. “He was pitched tough earlier in the weekend, and today he got good pitches in good counts. He does damage and doesn’t miss pitches when he gets them, and is a steady, even-keel hitter.”
Travis Edgar posted a zero in his first inning at MSUB in the seventh, and followed with another scoreless frame in the eighth to earn the victory. “Travis really filled it up for us in the back end, and Jalen threw well late,” Sutton said. “Overall on the weekend our pitching staff picked each other up, a lot of guys came in and performed.”
Garcia and Myers were behind a two-run ninth inning for the ‘Jackets, who needed the boost to withstand a three-run bottom of the inning by Dixie State. The Trailblazers got the tying run to the on-deck circle with only one out, but a stroke of defensive brilliance sealed the win for the ‘Jackets. Second baseman Chase Teter ranged up the middle to snag a sharp ground ball off the bat of Porter, flipped it to Golden at short, and first baseman Jarod Paul scooped it out of the dirt for a game-ending double play.
“That was a big play to end it, as they were starting to make some noise and come back,” Sutton said. “It was a great all-around play, with a flip, bare-hand, and an unbelievable pick by JP.”
MSUB stranded nine runners in the game, while DSU left 11 on base. The game was relatively clean defensively, with the ‘Jackets committing two errors and Dixie State with one miscue.
THE BUZZ: Myers was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…it was Myers’ second career multi-homer game with the ‘Jackets, his other coming on Feb. 18, 2017 at Colorado Mesa…MSUB is now 5-22 all-time against Dixie State…the 3-1 start is the best in program history in an opening weekend…MSUB’s baseball team went 2-2 in 2011, 2012, and 2016, and started the 2011 campaign with a 5-3 record through its first eight games…the 52 runs scored in the four games were the most in Yellowjacket baseball history, as the 2018 team bettered a cluster of 51 runs in four games from April 20-26, 2013.
COMING UP: MSUB hits the road again next week, heading west for a three-game series at the College of Idaho (NAIA). The ‘Jackets and Coyotes will play a doubleheader in Caldwell, Idaho next Saturday starting at noon, before an 11 a.m. single game on Sunday.