(MSU Billings release)
NAMPA, Idaho – Playing as the home team for the first time this season Friday, Montana State University Billings took advantage of hitting last as Conner Linebarger delivered a 12th-inning walkoff single in Game 1 of a doubleheader split against Great Northwest Athletic Conference foe Northwest Nazarene University at Vail Baseball Field.
Linebarger’s late single ended the extra-inning affair, plating Ryan Myers from second base and giving the conference-leading Yellowjackets a 6-5 triumph. Northwest Nazarene responded in Game 2 however, as right-hander Greg Casper held MSUB in check with a complete game in the Nighthawks’ 4-2 victory.
After the split, the Yellowjackets moved to 20-12 overall and are now 19-7 in conference play. NNU meanwhile stayed afloat in the GNAC standings, and is 13-23 overall and 11-15 in league play. The series concludes on Saturday with another doubleheader, slated for an 11 a.m. first pitch. “It makes a huge difference, having that last opportunity to produce runs, and it really mattered today for us,” MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton commented on the team’s first time playing as the home team in a game this season.“Linebarger has come up with clutch knock after clutch knock for us, and he produced again. We are going to get up early and go after it again, and hopefully our guys can respond. We can’t expect to go win every tight game and NNU did a good job today, so we will go respond tomorrow as we have two more to get.”
Junior Jalen Garcia broke the MSUB single-season record for stolen bases in Game 1, swiping his 18th of the season to top the mark of 17 held by Kyle Pryor (2007) and Zach Robinson (2017). Garcia also had the defensive play of the day, uncoiling a one-hop throw from center field to the plate to nail the would-be go-ahead run with two outs in the top of the 10th inning in Game 1. “Jalen was really good today, and he had an impact in all facets of the game,” said Sutton. “It’s just a testament to the type of player he is. That play at the plate might be one of the best defensive plays I have ever seen, especially in that big of a moment. That’s the type of play that guy goes and makes all the time.”
Myers hit his GNAC-leading 10th home run of the year and Kaleo Johnson added his fifth in the opening game of the doubleheader.
Game 1 – MSU Billings 6, Northwest Nazarene 5 (12 Innings)
Linebarger’s game-winning hit came with one out in the 12th, and capped off a back-and-forth affair in the win column for MSUB.
The ‘Jackets had a chance to win the game with a 5-3 lead entering the top of the ninth, but the Nighthawks rallied for a pair of runs to even the score. Casey Sheehan delivered an RBI-single, and Parker Price came home to tie the score on a wild pitch by MSUB reliever Adam Cox.
Tristan Shockley took over and earned the win in the game, as he extended his scoreless innings streak to 9 1/3 with two shutout frames to end the day.
Jesse Hilyard suffered the tough loss for NNU, despite logging 5 1/3 stellar innings of relief. The lone knock against him was a two-run home run by Johnson in the bottom of the seventh, which gave the ‘Jackets the 5-3 advantage. After that, Hilyard struck out six and walked none while giving up five hits over the rest of the game leading up to Linebarger’s walkoff.
Steen Fredrickson pitched into the seventh inning in his 10th start of the year, striking out five and walking three while scattering three runs on four hits. Sam Muskat tacked on 1 2/3 scoreless relief innings, and Cox struck out a pair in two frames despite taking a blown save.
NNU struck first on an RBI-groundout by Kyle Redford in the top of the first inning, before the ‘Jackets responded on a two-run double by Kade Hall in the second. The Nighthawks came inches away from preserving their early lead, as leftfielder Haden Keller made a diving snag of Hall’s fly ball before having it slip out of his glove on the warning track.
Keller came through in the top of the fourth inning, with an RBI-single to center to pull the score even once again. Myers added his 21st career home run to lead off the fifth, but NNU refused to give in as Zach Penrod punched the first pitch of the seventh to right for an RBI-single to make it a 3-3 ballgame.
Wyatt Setian had a stellar defensive play to end the eighth frame, gliding up the middle on a sharp ground ball before twirling and throwing to Myers in time for the force out. The senior first baseman did his part as well, scrambling to bare-hand the loose ball after stretching to knock down Setian’s throw.
The ‘Jackets were a strike away from making Johnson’s home run hold up as the winner, but Sheehan looped a base hit into left field and the ensuing wild pitch forced extra frames.
Each team had multiple opportunities in the low-scoring affair, as MSUB left nine runners on base while NNU stranded 11. Sheehan finished the game 4-for-6, while Linebarger went 3-for-5 at the plate in the opener.
Game 2 – Northwest Nazarene 4, MSU Billings 2 (7 Innings)
A pair of late errors by the ‘Jackets proved to be the difference in the Game 2 pitcher’s duel, as Casper overcame a 2-run first inning and shut down MSUB the rest of the way.
RBI-ground outs by Myers and Linebarger got MSUB off on the right foot, as it took a 2-0 edge right away. Wong followed with four straight shutout frames, until the ‘Hawks made a mishap count in the top of the fifth. Colton Brink hit a sinking line drive to center field, and Garcia got caught in between with the ball ultimately rolling under his glove to the wall. The error allowed Justin Folz to score from first, and an ensuing ground out from Price plated Brink to tie the game at 2-2.
Wong remained in the game into the seventh for his longest outing of the year, but an error of his own drove him from the contest and helped plate the winning runs. With NNU runners on first and second and one out, an errant pickoff attempt wound up in center field to push both runners into scoring position and eliminate MSUB’s hopes for a double play. Penrod beat an ominous defensive shift by the ‘Jackets, ripping a two-run game-winning single through three right-side defenders and past a diving Myers and Chase Teter.
MSUB brought the tying run to plate in the bottom of the seventh, but Bennett Tabaracci secured a final fly ball from Garcia to end the game.
Casper struck out nine and walked four, while giving up just four hits in his second complete game of the season. “We tip our cap to Casper, as he threw well today and had three pitches going for strikes,” Sutton commented on NNU’s righty. “He kept our hitters off balance. Sam competed extremely well, but it just came down to a couple of key plays that gave the game away.”
Wong had four strikeouts against three walks, and Travis Edgar struck out two batters in between allowing Penrod’s game-winning single.
No player on either team had more than one hit in the nightcap, while NNU left seven runners on base and MSUB stranded six.
THE BUZZ: Linebarger was picked as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Day…MSUB’s run total in Game 2 was its lowest since a 2-1 win over Western Oregon on March 10…Wong threw a season-high 99 pitches in the game.
COMING UP: Saturday’s doubleheader will feature live video with play-by-play commentary, and live statistics.