(MSU Billings release)
NAMPA, Idaho – Back-to-back seventh-inning doubles by Kade Hall and Jalen Garcia turned a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 lead, and Montana State University Billings came from behind to win Game 2 of a Great Northwest Athletic Conference doubleheader on Saturday against Northwest Nazarene University at Vail Baseball Field.
The Nighthawks claimed the opener 7-4, and were three outs away from the doubleheader sweep and series split. Instead, Wyatt Setian led off the three-run top of the seventh with a base hit and the ‘Jackets won the series with the 7-5 triumph in Saturday’s nightcap.
MSUB kept pace with Western Oregon in the GNAC standings, as it improved to 16-10 overall and 11-5 in league play. The Wolves remain in first place in the GNAC at 11-3 after a doubleheader sweep of Concordia on Saturday. NNU meanwhile slipped to 8-18 on the year, and is now 6-10 in conference play.
“It’s tough to get wins on the road, and when they are in front of us we have got to take advantage,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton on the team’s second straight GNAC road series victory. “We told our guys this was going to be a tough series, and we were fortunate to respond in Game 2 to get the win.”
Game 1 – Northwest Nazarene 7, MSU Billings 4
NNU jumped on MSUB with a four-run first inning, and maintained its lead throughout the game to prevent the series sweep. The Nighthawks scored three of their first-inning runs with two outs, including RBI-hits by Justin Folz and Bennett Tabaracci sandwiched by a double-steal of second and home.
Yellowjacket starter Jared Winslow shook off the early four-spot, and pitched into the sixth inning with one strikeout, two walks, and seven runs on seven hits.
MSUB managed just four hits in the game against four different NNU pitchers, with Adam Paulson striking out eight and giving up three runs on three hits in 5 1/3 innings to earn the win. Blake McFadden helped make NNU’s late lead hold up, as he struck out a pair in three perfect innings of relief to earn his first save of the year.
Setian lifted a sacrifice fly to right field in the second for MSUB’s first run of the day, but NNU responded with two more runs in the third on a home run by Kyle Redford.
Though the ‘Jackets scored three times in the sixth inning to pull within two runs, they’ll look back on the frame as a missed opportunity for more. Setian and Hall had RBIs to keep the bases loaded, and Ryan Myers was drilled by a pitch to keep the frame going with two outs. Kaleo Johnson just missed a go-ahead grand slam, as his deep fly ball to center was tracked down and MSUB left the bases loaded.
NNU got back to work and scraped a run back on a double by Parker Price in the bottom of the inning, and it wound up being the final run to cross the plate in the game.
While the ‘Jackets failed to reach base in the final three innings, Sam Muskat and Michael Gahan reciprocated with a combined 1 1/3 scoreless innings to finish the game for the visitors.
Andrew Schleusner had two of MSUB’s four hits in the opener, while Price went 3-for-5 with an RBI for NNU. MSUB’s two errors didn’t wind up costing them as all seven of NNU’s runs were earned, and the ‘Jackets left nine runners on base over the first six innings of the game.
Game 2 – MSU Billings 7, Northwest Nazarene 5 (7 Innings)
Garcia, who had been 0-for-16 in the series entering the seventh inning, turned around on an inside pitch and ripped what proved to be the game-winning hit into the left field corner. The reigning GNAC Player of the Week’s big swing of the bat plated Hall, who was on second after doubling home Setian to tie the score at 5-5. Schleusner added a sacrifice fly for an extra insurance run, which was more than enough of a cushion for Adam Cox to get his second save of the weekend.
“We put good swings on balls all day, but we didn’t have a lot to show for it,” said Sutton. “Our mentality all year long has been to get on base and get it to the next guy in our lineup. We always have a lot of confidence in Jalen, and even when things are not going good for him he finds ways to help us win ballgames.”
Cox mowed down the Nighthawks in order in the seventh, striking out two of the three hitters he faced to make it five saves on the season. Dakota Weindel earned the win for MSUB, as he stranded a runner in scoring position to end the sixth inning with the deficit at one run.
Just as he did on Friday, Schleusner had another stellar athletic play behind the plate that saved the day for the ‘Jackets. With runners on the corners and one out in the bottom of the sixth, Schleusner hustled after a pitch that got away from him and fired to Travis Edgar covering home just in time for a bang-bang putout. The big play kept the score tied at 4-4, but Ryan Connor delivered a huge two-out RBI-single to push NNU ahead by a run.
MSUB got out to a 3-0 lead over the first two frames, but the ‘Hawks countered with a three-run bottom of the second in another tightly contested affair.
Johnson had a sacrifice fly in the first inning, and Chase Teter’s second home run of the year came in the second to give the ‘Jackets the early edge. Three straight Nighthawks reached to start the third however, setting the table for a two-run double by Ben Johnson after an RBI-single by Folz.
Hayden Humphrey hit his first home run as a Yellowjacket in the top of the fourth, counteracting an RBI-single by Redford and evening the score at 4-4.
MSUB left seven runners on base while NNU stranded four in the game. Cooper Webster had seven strikeouts against just one walk in six innings, but took the no-decision as he allowed five runs on eight hits while throwing 99 pitches.
Tristan Shockley was solid in 2 1/3 shutout relief innings for MSUB, scattering three hits and striking out a pair.
THE BUZZ: Hall was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Day…MSUB is now 46-45 all-time against NNU and is 22-21 in road games against the ‘Hawks…Cox has struck out 23 of the 43 batters he has faced this season.
NEXT UP: The 30-game road trip to start the season comes to an end next week, as the Yellowjackets take on GNAC foe Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash. Doubleheaders are scheduled for noon on March 30 and 11 a.m. on March 31 at the CWU Baseball Field.