(Editor’s Note: MSU Billings media release)
BILLINGS – After two weeks of battling weather, the Montana State University Billings softball team (15-17, 5-6 GNAC) will get back on the field at Avitus Group Stadium as they host the Saint Martin’s Saints (19-14, 9-7 GNAC) this Saturday and Sunday. The Great Northwest Athletic Conference foes will play doubleheaders starting at 12 p.m. on both days.
“I think the team is a little extra excited to get on the field after the long break,” head coach Jessica Rayman said. “They know that we have missed out on some opportunities due to the weather. It has been difficult to have a constantly changing schedule, but our player have done a really good job adapting and keeping a positive mind set. I’ve been happy with the way they’ve handled it. We’ve only had four or five outdoor practices, but they’ve shown up and worked hard every day.”
The Saint took all four games from the Yellowjackets last season in Lacey, Wash. An 8-6 loss in Game 2 was the closest MSUB could get to a strong Saint Martin’s group that outscored the ‘Jackets 35-10 in the series.
In 2016, the Saints won three of four in Billings with MSUB winning a 14-6 tilt in the final game of the series. The teams have met 62 times with the Yellowjackets holding a 33-29 advantage all-time. MSU Billings last won a series against SMU in 2012 when they won three of four on the Saints’ home field.
WEATHERING THE STORM: After starting the season with 29 games in 51 days, the Yellowjackets will end a 15-day break from play with Game 1 against Saint Martin’s on Saturday. At the peak of this season’s activity, MSUB played 12 games in the first eight days of the season going 7-5 over the stretch. During the first two months of the season, MSU Billings had their largest break from Feb. 18 to March 3, when they traveled to Simon Fraser during a 13-day rest. Last season, the ‘Jackets had a 22 day break due to cancellations and won their first game back in action 7-6 over Western Washington. This season, the team is 4-2 in games after five days of rest including a win in their season opener and are 2-0 in the first game back from a break of 10 days or more.
Saint Martin’s is one of three Great Northwest Athletic Conference schools to hold a record above .500 in league play this season with their 9-7 record. The Yellowjackets will look to join that club and get into playoff position with a series victory putting them two or three games over the .500 mark. Having lost five conference games to weather already this season, each conference clash will have a little more significance for MSUB over the next three weeks.
“These games are extremely important for our conference positioning,” Rayman said of the four game series against Saint Martin’s. “Conference seeding is based off of win percentage, so if we are unable to make up our five cancelled games it just makes every game count a little more. I think our team is ready to take care of business over the next three series. They’re working hard and I know that they are excited to take advantage of our opportunities.”
TRACY FEATURED ON GNAC INSIDER: Senior standout Heather Tracy was featured on this week edition GNAC Insider where she talked about her fantastic four year career and the Yellowjackets’ aspirations of making a trip to the GNAC Tournament. Tracy was also the focus of a HERO Sports feature talking about her record setting pace at the plate this season.
So far this season, Tracy leads the conference in batting average, hits, runs scored, on-base and slugging percentage. She is second in the league with 17 steals and third in RBI with 26. Her .513 batting average ranks sixth in Division II.
NEWCOMERS ON THE RISE: During the Yellowjackets three victories over Western Washington two weeks ago, they capitalized on big performances from a quartet of newcomers. Third baseman Emily Martinez started all three games and recorded a hit in each contest. Martinez also tallied her first-career RBI, two doubles and scored two runs in the series. She went 4-for-7 at the plate and is hitting .438 in nine games this season. Brittanee Fisher had the biggest hit of the weekend with her three-run homer in Game 2. She was 2-for-2 in the game and scored two runs in the 9-2 win. Kelsee Bushell has become a staple at shortstop and knocked her third home run of the season in the third and final game against the Vikings. After an early slump, Bushell has settled in at the plate hitting .274 with six doubles and 13 RBI in 27 starts. In Game 3, freshman Haley Couch took to the circle for her sixth start of the season. The right-hander worked five innings allowing five hits and two runs while receiving five runs of support before Maddy Lincoln came in to close. Couch did not walk a batter in the game and has a 1.35 walks per seven innings rate which would rank second in the GNAC with just two more innings pitched this season.
All MSUB home games as well as GNAC road contests will be available through the MSUB Stretch Internet Portal.
Saint Martin’s University Saints
Saturday, April 14, 2018 | 12 PM & 2 PM| Avitus Group Stadium
Sunday, April 15, 2018 | 12 PM & 2 PM| Avitus Group Stadium
2018 Record: 19-14, 9-7 GNAC
Head Coach: Jim Peterson (1st Season)
2017 Record: 25-19, 15-11 GNAC (3rd Place)
Converting a pair of closely contested wins over Western Washington on Monday, the Saints come into the four-game series as 1 of 3 Great Northwest Athletic Conference team with a winning record against league opponents. In Game 1 SMU earned a 2-1 win before winning Game 2 3-2. Saint’s pitchers allowed just two earned runs off of 10 hits in 14 innings of work.
Saint Martin’s has a 3.30 team-ERA while using four pitchers this season. Lauren Maley has delivered a 13-9 record with a team-best 2.53 ERA and four complete games. She has struck out 34 batters this year while giving up five home runs in 26 appearances and 11 starts spanning 102.1 innings. Kim Nelson has six starts for the Saints this season and is second on the team with 71.0 innings pitched. She is 6-4 with a 3.65 ERA.
Offensively the Saints are batting at a .281 clip with just nine home runs. Linsay Miller has a team best .373 batting average with 41 hits and 29 runs scored. A speedster, Miller has 17 stolen bases, tied for second in the GNAC with Heather Tracy. Tessani Dixon hits .305 for the Saints and has collected four of the teams’ nine homers this year. The senior also leads the team with 23 RBI.
SMU has won 10 of their past 12 games after starting the season 9-12. They have a 7-5 record on the road this season and are 8-5 in neutral site matches. When scoring four or more runs this season, the Saints are 13-2.