(MSU Billings release)
NAMPA, Idaho – Matt Dillon hit two of the seven home runs by the Montana State University Billings baseball team on Friday afternoon at Vail Baseball Field, and the Yellowjackets slugged their way to a doubleheader sweep of Great Northwest Athletic Conference foe Northwest Nazarene University.
The Yellowjackets led 14-0 in an eventual 15-8 win in the opener, before padding their lead late for a 10-6 triumph in the nightcap. Dillon finished the day 6-for-8 with six RBIs and three runs scored while playing right field.
“Matt has hit a lot of balls really hard all year, so I was really excited for him today,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “We had to hone in on our approach the last few weeks on the West Coast, and we didn’t change that going into our series today. We liked our guys’ swings over at SMU, and guys put good swings on the ball all day long.”
The Yellowjackets improved to 14-9 overall with the wins, and are now 9-4 in conference play to stand just a half game back of Western Oregon University for first place.
The Nighthawks did their fair share of damage at the plate as well, with four home runs on the day and 14 total runs scored. NNU fell to 7-16 overall and is now 5-8 with Friday’s losses.
Game 1 – MSU Billings 15, Northwest Nazarene 8
Six runs in the third and seven more in the fourth told the story in the opener, as the Yellowjackets buried NNU early in the game. The Nighthawks made some noise with a five-run seventh inning, but never got within striking distance in the offense-heavy opener.
MSUB starter Steen Fredrickson improved to 5-0 on the year and added six strikeouts to bring his GNAC-leading total to 44 on the season. The junior right-hander had to deal with some early adversity, as NNU threatened to strike first in the game. The ‘Hawks pushed runners to second and third in the bottom of the first inning, but Fredrickson came through with his first punch out of the day to end the frame. “Steen set the tempo for us right out of the gate, and when he gets it rolling it gives us a comfortability factor for our club,” Sutton said. “We are excited for his progress and he has really set a high standard this season.”
Haden Keller helped NNU break through with a solo home run to center in the fourth, but by then the ‘Jackets had built an insurmountable 14-0 advantage.
Dillon had the first of his five RBIs in the game with a base hit in the second inning, and drove in three more with his first home run of the year in the third. MSUB’s six-run rally in the third came with two outs, as Kaleo Johnson and Hayden Humphrey each also had an RBI in the inning.
Unlike the third, MSUB’s seven-run fourth frame began with seven straight hitters reaching base. Among the highlights were a two-run double by Johnson and a two-run home run from Wyatt Setian, while a double play rescued NNU in a frame where it allowed two walks and a hit batter.
Conner Linebarger ripped his third home run of the year in the sixth inning, a solo shot that proved to be MSUB’s final run of the ballgame. Bryan Black, Justin Folz, and Parker Price each tossed a scoreless frame to help NNU end the game on a positive note.
‘Hawks starter Brennan Patterson took the loss, surrendering eight runs on seven hits and striking out four in three innings pitched.
Game 2 – MSU Billings 10, Northwest Nazarene 6 (7 Innings)
Catcher Andrew Schleusner had one of the biggest defensive plays of the day in a dramatic ending to the fifth inning, scooping up a would-be wild pitch and firing a strike down to Johnson at third in plenty of time to nail the runner trying to advance. The assist came with MSUB leading 6-5 but NNU threatening with two outs and two runners on base.
In the ensuing frame, Schleusner drilled a three-run home run before Dillon added a solo shot in a four-run scoring burst that sealed the win.
Shutdown closer Adam Cox picked up his fourth save of the season, as he logged four strikeouts over the final 2 1/3 innings pitched. “We are trying to get the ball to Adam at the back end, and he filled up the strike zone again today,” Sutton said on the righty, who has now struck out 21 of the 40 batters he has faced this season. “He’s been throwing great all year, and he threw extremely well again today.”
The lone blemish against Cox was a solo home run by Folz in the bottom of the seventh, but the Nighthawks didn’t have any other baserunners in the final two innings of the game.
Kade Hall sparked a big first inning with a leadoff double, and back-to-back home runs by Ryan Myers and Johnson gave the ‘Jackets a 3-0 lead.
The Nighthawks didn’t let Game 2 slip out of reach however, as they found an answer each time the ‘Jackets scored. Price pranced all the way around the bases on a triple and an error in the first, and NNU countered a run by MSUB in the second with a sacrifice fly by Bennett Tabaracci.
Linebarger delivered a big one-out, two-run double to left center in the top of the fourth to make the score 6-2, but NNU once again got two runs back on a two-out, two-run single by Kyle Redford in the bottom of the inning.
Sam Muskat made his second start of the year for MSUB, allowing three runs on seven hits with a strikeout and a walk in three innings.
NNU starter Greg Casper allowed six runs on four hits in 3 1/3 innings and took the loss, and Zach Penrod struck out a pair in 1 1/3 perfect relief innings to end the day.
THE BUZZ: Dillon was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Day…MSUB is now 45-44 all-time against NNU and is 22-21 in road games…Dillon became the 10th player in MSUB history to record five hits in a game, and the first since Kyle Durbin achieved the feat on May 5, 2016 against Saint Martin’s…Friday marked Dillon’s second-career five-RBI game, as plated five on April 23, 2017 thanks in large part to two home runs against Saint Martin’s…Linebarger’s other four-hit game was also at Northwest Nazarene, last spring on April 8…the 15 runs scored in the opener by MSUB tied its highest total of the season…the home run by Folz in Game 2 was the first hit and run allowed by Cox this season.
AHEAD: The series concludes on Saturday, with another doubleheader scheduled to start at noon.