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First-Place Snowdown: MSU-Billings, Western Oregon to clash in Wyoming

Posted at 6:15 PM, Apr 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 15:54:47-04

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – A fresh flurry of snow will further prolong the highly-anticipated home debut for the Montana State University Billings baseball team, as conditions remain unplayable at Dehler Park in the Magic City.

It won’t stop the Great Northwest Athletic Conference-leading Yellowjackets from playing this weekend however, as their four-game series against Western Oregon University is scheduled to be played at the field at Rocky Mountain High School in Cowley, Wyo. Though the ‘Jackets (19-11, 14-6 GNAC) are still yet to have a home game, they will play as the home team this weekend for the first time this season after 30 games on the road.

Western Oregon is 14-13 overall, and is tied with MSUB atop the conference standings at 14-6 at the midway point of the conference season.

The series is scheduled to begin with a 9-inning game Friday evening, with a tentative start time of 5 p.m. The teams then plan to play a doubleheader on Saturday with a 1 p.m. start time, with both games being 7-inning affairs. The series will conclude on Sunday morning with a single 9-inning game starting at 8:30 a.m. Live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available for all four games, through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal online here.

The schedule remains subject to change due to inclement weather conditions, and real-time updates can be obtained throughout the weekend at and through the MSUB Baseball Twitter account online here.

The Yellowjackets ascended to the top of the conference standings by winning four of their first five GNAC series of the year, the lone exception being a 2-2 split on the road against the Wolves on March 9-10 in Oregon. Since then, MSUB has rattled off three straight 3-1 series wins on the road, and will play its final five conference series of the year as the home team.

Last week, MSUB rallied for three straight wins at Central Washington University after dropping the opener to salvage the series win. After scoring 49 runs and tying the GNAC record with 13 home runs in the series, MSUB was selected as the GNAC Team of the Week.

WEST REGION RANKINGS: The Yellowjackets bumped back up to No. 7 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association west region top-10 this week, ascending one position from last week’s No. 8 ranking.

HALL HONORED BY GNAC, WEST REGION: Not only did senior Kade Hall claim MSUB’s sixth GNAC Player of the Week honor of the season, but he was also named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association West Region Player of the Week. The honors came following an 8-for-18 weekend by the leftfielder, who hit three home runs and drove in a team-best nine runs.

The offensive barrage by the ‘Jackets started with their leadoff man, who elevated his season batting average to .362 and is now No. 2 on the team with seven home runs and 29 RBIs.

GARCIA’S IMPRESSIVE STREAK COMES TO AN END: Junior centerfielder Jalen Garcia committed his first career error last week at CWU, after 121 consecutive fielding chances without a miscue through his first two seasons with the ‘Jackets. Garcia went on to make nine catches after the mishap last week, and was even more important with his offensive performance as he homered twice and drove in three runs.

Overall on the year Garcia is the fourth-leading hitter in the GNAC with an average of .374, while leading the league in runs (34), triples (3), RBIs (30), and stolen bases (17). With his next steal, Garcia will obtain sole possession of the top spot in MSUB single-season history, as he matched the record of 17 held by Zach Robinson (2017) and Kyle Pryor (2007).

JOHNSON REACHES TOP OF GNAC: Junior Kaleo Johnson matched Hall with nine RBIs last week, as he hit three doubles and homered twice to account for a large portion of the team’s 49 runs scored. Entering this week, Johnson leads the GNAC with a batting average of .394. Despite playing just 23 of 30 games, Johnson is eighth in the conference with 24 RBIs as well.

6 OF THE TOP 10: Among the top-10 hitters in the GNAC, six are located within MSUB’s lineup. Along with Johnson, Garcia, and Hall, juniors Ryan Myers and Conner Linebarger and sophomore Hayden Humphrey occupy the 8-through-10 spots. Linebarger checks in at .358, and is third on the team with 28 RBIs while slugging four home runs. In his first year with the ‘Jackets, Humphrey is batting .351 through 24 games and is reaching base at a clip of .462. Myers is hitting .345, and leads the conference in home runs (9), on-base percentage (.525), and slugging percentage (.701). Myers now has 20 career home runs, and trails only Brody Miller (25) and Luke Reinschmidt (22) among the Yellowjackets’ all-time long ball leaders.

OFFENSIVE POWERHOUSE: The Yellowjackets are in the top-30 in the NCAA in runs scored, as their 244 runs through 30 games ranks No. 27. That figure translates into 8.13 runs per game, as the Yellowjackets are on pace to shatter the school record of 357 runs scored in the 2015 season. MSUB has also hit 40 home runs, which ranks No. 19 in the NCAA and is just five short of the program record of 45 set last spring. The Yellowjackets’ average of 1.33 home runs per game is tied for 15th in the country as well. MSUB’s GNAC-leading slugging percentage of .500 is No. 24 in the NCAA, with 64 doubles ranking No. 32 in the country to complement the record-pace home run total.

NO SLOUCH ON THE MOUND: While the offense has carried MSUB, it has been impressive on the mound as well ranking No. 2 in the GNAC with a team earned run average of 5.38. The Yellowjackets’ 243 strikeouts in 241 innings pitched are by far the most in the conference, and their 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings is a top-50 mark in the NCAA overall.

FREDRICKSON LOOKS TO BOUNCE BACK: Junior ace Steen Fredrickson had his second-shortest outing of the year last week against CWU, but he still managed to strike out five hitters in four innings pitched. The right-hander took the no-decision to keep his record at a perfect 5-0, and he enters this week leading the conference with 49 strikeouts and an average of 11.02 per game.

GAHAN MAKES FIRST START COUNT: Senior Michael Gahan cruised through a career-high eight innings in Game 3 against the Wildcats, picking up the victory in the first start of his Yellowjacket career. The righty had a personal-best six strikeouts against just one walk, while allowing one run and scattering four hits. It was Gahan’s fourth appearance on the mound this season, and he lowered his ERA to 2.84 with a dozen strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings pitched.

SHUTDOWN SHOCKLEY: Tristan Shockley supplied a boost out of the bullpen twice last week, and accumulated five shutout innings to help the ‘Jackets to a pair of victories. Shockley totaled six strikeouts and no walks, while giving up just two hits in his two relief appearances. Shockley now has a streak of 7 2/3 shutout innings, and an ERA of 4.34 on the season.

COX Ks HALF: Senior Adam Cox has maintained his dominance as a reliever on the mound, as he has struck out exactly half of the hitters he has faced this year (26 of 52). Cox leads the conference with five saves, and has a 1.76 ERA in 15 1/3 innings pitched.

WONG HAS PROMISING RETURN: After missing a turn in the rotation at Northwest Nazarene, Sam Wong returned to the mound and was solid through five innings in a win over CWU. Wong had four strikeouts against no walks, and although he surrendered five runs only two of them were earned. Aside from Fredrickson’s eight starts, Wong has been the second-most reliable starter as he has been handed the ball in seven of MSUB’s eight series this season.

Western Oregon University Wolves
Friday-Sunday, April 6-8 | Cowley, Wyoming
2018 Record: 14-13, 14-6 GNAC
Head Coach: Kellen Walker, 6th season
2017 Record: 31-15, 27-12 GNAC (Regular-Season & Tournament Champion)
First Series: WOU 8, MSUB 0 | MSUB 3, WOU 0 | WOU 5, MSUB 3 | MSUB 2, WOU 1

The Wolves are coming off a series split against Northwest Nazarene last week, and, like the ‘Jackets, have won or split all five of their conference series this season. After this week’s series, the Wolves look forward to three straight weekends at home as they vie to defend last year’s regular-season and conference tournament titles.

Though the Wolves’ strength lies in their pitching, the offense has been productive this year as well. WOU averages 5.3 runs per game, while leading the GNAC with a team ERA of 3.85.

Among WOU’s offensive weapons are Jared McDonald and Connor McCord, who are tied for the team lead with six home runs apiece. McDonald is hitting .322, while McCord checks in at .305 with a team-best 26 RBIs. Jacob Martinez leads the team with a batting average of .337, and has stolen five bases while scoring a team-high 26 runs.

WOU was without star Nyles Nygaard last week, who is hitting .299 with six home runs and 23 RBIs. Nygaard is also one of the premier defensive infielders in the conference, as he has committed just two errors in 69 chances at third base for a fielding percentage of .971.

WOU’s most regular starters on the mound have been Gabe Benavides and Craig Grubbe, who have seven and six starts, respectively. Benavides has 24 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings with a 3.47 ERA, while Grubbe checks in with 25 strikeouts in 33 2/3 innings with a 4.54 ERA.

Perhaps the best arm on the team has been sophomore Alex Roth, who paces the squad with 39 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings pitched. Roth has earned a start in each of the last five series, and has a stellar ERA of 1.57 while leading the GNAC with an opponents’ batting average of .220.

The Series: After the split earlier this season, MSUB is 22-68 all-time against Western Oregon. The teams have played eight neutral-site contests and will add four more this weekend, with WOU holding a 6-2 upper hand in that category.

Last Time Out: The ‘Jackets scored just eight runs in the series, but managed to claim a pair of victories with stellar pitching and defense. Fredrickson and Cox combined for a shutout in MSUB’s 3-0 win, and Hall ended the series by throwing out the potential tying run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning to secure a 2-1 win.