(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – Great Northwest Athletic Conference play begins this week for the Montana State University Billings baseball team, which will open up its 40-game league schedule at Concordia University.
The Yellowjackets (5-5) embark on a stretch of three straight road series on the West Coast, before making their home debut March 23-24. Doubleheaders are scheduled to be played on Saturday and Sunday at Porter Park in Northeast Portland, with first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m. Pacific time Saturday and noon on Sunday. Live video and live statistics will be available for all four games through the MSUB Stretch Internet portal online.
MSUB plays at Western Oregon University March 9-10, before another four-game series at Saint Martin’s University on March 16-17. “As a group we are looking forward to turning our focus to conference play,” commented second-year head coach Aaron Sutton. “We found out a lot about our group during the pre-season, and we look to improve heading into league play. Concordia is a very experienced team that will play fundamental baseball.”
REGIONAL RANKINGS: The ‘Jackets moved to No. 10 in the latest National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association west-region rankings, down three spots from No. 7 last week.
LAST WEEK: MSUB recorded a milestone program win a week ago, as the ‘Jackets topped the University of Northern Colorado 9-5 on Feb. 25 for the first victory over an NCAA Division I opponent in program history. The Bears got the best of the ‘Jackets in the overall series however, as MSUB dropped 2 of 3 to finish the non-conference portion of its schedule at .500.
LEAGUE PLAY THE REST OF THE WAY: It’s all conference play for the rest of the year, as the ‘Jackets kick off the race towards the 2018 GNAC Championships with this weekend’s GNAC games. After the 10-week, 40-game conference schedule, the top-four teams in the GNAC standings will advance to the conference tournament. This year’s event will be hosted by Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash., and will run May 9-11. The ‘Jackets are looking to make it four straight seasons advancing to the GNAC Championships.
OREGONIANS OVERWHELM OPPOSITION: The Oregon tandem of Steen Fredrickson and Sam Muskat pitched MSUB to its historic win last week, combining for 17 strikeouts to tie the team single-game record. Fredrickson earned his second GNAC Pitcher of the Week award of the season, as he struck out 10 in five stellar innings while giving up just a solo home run. The Ashland, Ore., native handed the ball off to Muskat of Beaverton, Ore., and watched the lefty mow down a career-high seven batters in four stellar relief innings. Fredrickson earned his second win of the year, and enters the week leading the GNAC with 16 strikeouts and has 14 2/3 innings pitched. Muskat earned the first save of his career as he finished the game, and he now has a dozen strikeouts in 13 1/3 relief innings. It was just the second time in school history that a Yellowjacket team had 17 punch-outs in a game, as the record was established on May 1, 2016 against Western Oregon.
GARCIA CONTINUES STRONG START: Continuing the strong start to his season last week, all five of junior Jalen Garcia’s hits went for extra bases in the UNC series. Garcia had three doubles, a triple, and a home run, and upped his team-leading RBI total to 17 on the season. Garcia is also slugging at .804, while reaching base at a clip of .420 through his first 10 games of the year.
MYERS MASHING: Even against D1 pitching, senior Ryan Myers proved to be a tough out to get. He went 5-for-8 in two games against the Bears, and drilled his third home run of the year. Overall on the season Myers is batting .524 through six games played, and has a remarkable on-base percentage of .667 as he has reached in 20 of 30 plate appearances so far.
HUMPHREY SETTLING INTO RIGHT: Taking over in right field this season, Hayden Humphrey has provided instant production with a batting average of .375 through his first 10 games. He has struck out just three times in 37 plate appearances, and carries an on-base percentage of .432 in the middle of the order.
SCHLEUSNER SNAPS STREAK, STILL SWINGING WELL: An 0-for-4 for Andrew Schleusner in Game 2 last week snapped an 11-game hitting streak that dated back to last season, but it did little to hurt the sophomore’s confidence at the plate. Off to a red-hot start this spring, Schleusner is third on the squad with a .364 batting average and is second with a dozen RBIs. Among everyday players, Schleusner has the fewest strikeouts with just two in 40 plate appearances, while slugging at .545 and reaching base at a clip of .475.
LINEBARGER TIES PROGRAM RECORD: Junior Conner Linebarger tied a school record in Game 2 last week, as he scored four times in the win over the Bears. The notable mark has been achieved 16 other times in school history, most recently a year ago by Zach Robinson on April 15.
EDGAR IMPRESSES AGAIN: Though the ‘Jackets were out of the game down 18-6, senior right-hander Travis Edgar was again untouchable in his second outing of the year in the finale against UNC. The Gypsum, Colo., native struck out all three hitters that he faced, and now has five strikeouts in 3.0 innings pitched on the year. In his first year with the ‘Jackets, Edgar has yet to surrender a hit or run, and figures to be a key late-inning arm as conference play begins.
WONG’S CONSISTENCY ENCOURAGING: Earning a start on the mound for the third straight week, junior lefty Sam Wong had another good showing in the opening game at UNC. Though he allowed five runs in three innings, only one of them was earned as a two-out fielding error spoiled his chance to go deeper into the game. Overall he holds a 4.05 ERA through his first 13 1/3 innings pitched, and the opposition has a tough time stringing hits together with a batting average of just .237 against him.
TOP-NOTCH OFFENSE: A fifth of the way through the season, MSUB continues to far and away lead the GNAC offensively with an average of 9.5 runs per game. MSUB is hitting .316 as a team, with the next-closest squad (Northwest Nazarene) hitting .277 through 10 games.
Concordia University Cavaliers
Saturday, March 3 – 2 PM (MTN) – Porter Park
Sunday, March 4 – 1 PM (MTN) – Porter Park
2018 Record: 1-9
Head Coach: Rob Vance, 19th season
2017 Record: 15-35, 13-27 GNAC (6th place)
Concordia has had a tough start to the year, going 1-9 through its first 10 games. The Cavaliers opened up against NAIA No. 1-ranked Lewis-Clark State, dropping all four games on the road. Since then, CU has lost a three-game series at Cal State San Marcos, before taking one of three against Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif., last weekend.
Andrew Barrera is one of two ‘Cavs to have started all 10 games, and he leads the team with a solid .429 batting average. He is reaching base at a clip of .489 and is a perfect 4-for-4 in stolen bases to lead his squad.
At the plate, Ben Koerner (.333) and Sam Gillenwater (.300) are also leading hitters for the team in the early going.
Jake Roes and Tyler Charlton provide a solid 1-2 punch on the mound for CU, as each has started a game in all three series of the year. Roes holds a 3.38 ERA in a team-high 16.0 innings pitched, while striking out 11 and walking seven. Charlton is close behind with a 3.46 ERA, and he has seven strikeouts in 13 innings pitched. Trevor Huddleston and Kaleb Jones are CU’s other starters, raking second and fourth on the team with 13 1/3 and 12 1/3 innings pitched, respectively.
As a team CU holds a .223 batting average and has yet to hit its first home run of the year. The ‘Cavs average just 3.5 runs per game while allowing 7.0, and as a pitching staff they have a 5.87 ERA and a .281 opponent batting average.
The Series: MSUB is 12-7 all-time against CU and holds a record of 7-3 in away games. MSUB has won nine of the last 11 meetings between the teams, including 6 of 8 last season to win each series 3-1.
Last Time Out: The ‘Jackets narrowly out-scored the ‘Cavs 23-22 but managed to win 3 of 4 in their last series played in Portland April 27-28, 2016.