(MSU Billings release)
ELLENSBURG, Wash. – A team single-game record five home runs highlighted a doubleheader sweep by Montana State University Billings, as the Yellowjackets defeated Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponent Central Washington University twice on Saturday at the CWU Baseball Field.
Jalen Garcia homered twice in the 18-1 Game 1 win, Ryan Myers added the 20th of his career, Kaleo Johnson made it three straight series with a long ball, and Colton Cosner hit the first of his MSUB career to help the ‘Jackets reach the record. Hayden Humphrey chipped in his second home run of the year in an 11-4 victory in the nightcap, and Johnson added his second of the day as MSUB totaled seven home runs and scored 29 times in the doubleheader.
MSUB improved to 19-11 with the wins on Saturday and kept pace at the top of the GNAC standings with a league record of 14-6 through the first half of conference play. Central Washington meanwhile fell to 17-13 with the losses, and is now 12-8 in GNAC play. “As a whole we have found a good balance of guys who have very good discipline, and they have bought into getting it to the next guy,” commented MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “It’s about grinding out at-bats, and 1-through-9 there is no letup. We can feel it in our dugout and the opponents’ dugout as well.”
The ‘Jackets set up a first-place showdown next week in Billings, when Western Oregon University comes to town for the first games of the season at Dehler Park. The Wolves are currently tied with the ‘Jackets atop the conference standings, with a record of 14-13 and 14-6 in league play after their series split against Northwest Nazarene.
“Our guys just respond well, and we have dealt with a lot of adversity this year,” Sutton commented on MSUB rattling off three straight wins in the series after a disheartening 14-13 loss in the opener on a passed ball. “We have just kept our focus on the next 100 feet, and guys have embodied that which has worked out extremely well for us.”
Making his first career start on the mound in Game 1, senior Michael Gahan had a career-high six strikeouts through eight innings, giving up just one run on four hits. “We have been trying to get Mick going, so we were excited to get him back,” said Sutton. “He competes, no matter the score, and he just went out and tried to make pitches all game.”
Game 1 – MSU Billings 18, Central Washington 1
MSUB set the tone with a three-run first inning on Johnson’s first home run of the day, and blew the game open with 13 runs in the fifth-through-seventh frames. The ‘Jackets strung together 21 hits in the game, missing the school single-game record by a single hit.
Garcia hit his first home run in the fifth inning, while Myers and Cosner followed with a home run each during the Yellowjackets’ four-run sixth inning. The record-breaking swing of the bat came in the top of the seventh, when Garcia drilled another solo shot to left center to make the score 15-1.
While there was no pressure on Gahan by the time he finished his best career outing, the score remained just 3-0 in favor of MSUB through the first three innings of play. The Wildcats’ lone run came in the bottom of the fourth, when Justin Hampson lifted a sacrifice fly to center. Gahan put up zeroes in the next four frames however, and earned his second win of the season.
Johnson finished 4-for-5 with three runs and three RBIs, while Garcia and Conner Linebarger had three hits apiece. Cosner went 2-for-5 with a season-high four RBIs, and Kade Hall also drove in four runs out of the leadoff spot.
Game 2 – MSU Billings 11, Central Washington 4 (7 Innings)
Though MSUB once again got off to a solid start with a 4-0 lead through three innings, the Wildcats threatened to pull out a series split. Four different ‘Jackets had an RBI in the first two innings to create the early lead, and MSUB starter Jared Winslow put up zeroes through the first three frames.
Just as they did in Game 1 on Friday, errors hampered the Yellowjackets and helped CWU get back into the game. With the Wildcats trailing 4-0 entering the bottom of the fourth, MSUB had two defensive miscues and watched as the ‘Cats evened the score by the end of the inning. Christopher Dalto had the big hit with a two-run double in the frame.
MSUB was quick to respond however, as an error by the ‘Cats and a balk helped push the ‘Jackets back in front 5-4. Johnson followed with his second home run of the day, and the ‘Jackets scored three more in the sixth to build a six-run advantage.
By then, Tristan Shockley had taken over on the mound and was on his way to a dominant final three innings to earn the save. The junior struck out four with no walks, and gave up just one hit to preserve the win for Winslow.
CWU starter Seth Pedersen allowed seven runs on seven hits in four innings, and JJ Asinas struck out four while walking three and giving up four runs in the final three frames.
The Wildcats committed six errors in the finale, managed just five hits, and left 10 runners on base.
THE BUZZ: Gahan was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Day…MSUB is now 45-46 all-time against CWU and is 23-25 in games played in Ellensburg…the 18 runs in Game 1 were the most this year and the most in a game since MSUB scored 19 against Central Washington on May 5, 2017…Garcia joined Myers and Hall as the third ‘Jacket this year with a two-homer game, and the feat has now been achieved 19 times in MSUB history…Saturday marked MSUB’s first series win over CWU on the road since the ‘Jackets took 3 of 4 in Ellensburg on May 4-5, 2012…the Yellowjackets scored 49 runs and hit 13 home runs in the four-game series against the Wildcats…with his 17th stolen base of the year in Game 2, Garcia tied the MSUB single-season record.
COMING UP: After 30 straight games on the road, the ‘Jackets are scheduled for their long-awaited 2018 home debut next week, with a four-game series at Dehler Park against GNAC-leading Western Oregon. Doubleheaders are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.