(MSU Billings release)
PORTLAND, Ore. – The first four-game series sweep since the 2016 season has resulted in the second Great Northwest Athletic Conference Team of the Week award of the 2018 season for the Montana State University Billings baseball team announced by the conference office Monday.
The GNAC-leading Yellowjackets wrapped up a berth into the 2018 GNAC Championships over the weekend, taking all four games from the Cavaliers in their 2018 home opener at Dehler Park.
“We had a really hot team coming in with Concordia, and they really battled in the two 7-inning games,” commented Yellowjacket head coach Aaron Sutton. “I thought our guys responded well. We had four quality starts from our pitching staff on the weekend, which allowed us to use some of our back end arms in the big innings.”
The Cavaliers were coming off three straight GNAC series wins, including taking 2 of 3 games against Western Oregon University the previous week. MSUB claimed the season win over CU with a record of 7-1, after winning 3 of 4 the first time the teams met in Portland. MSUB is now 26-12 on the season, including a mark of 25-7 in conference play as they hold a 5.5-game lead over the Wolves at the top of the standings. MSUB is five wins away from clinching its third GNAC regular-season title in the last four years, after winning back-to-back championships in 2015-16.
“We know each week from here out is a big weekend,” Sutton commented on the Yellowjackets’ eight remaining conference games to close the regular season. “It was great to play at home finally and get four wins, and now we turn our attention to the next four games with Saint Martin’s.”
MSUB opened the series against CU with a statement, claiming a 16-0 victory in Game 1 as it took advantage of seven errors by the Cavaliers. GNAC-leading hitter Kaleo Johnson smashed a pair of home runs in the game, bringing his season total to nine on the year. Making his 10th start of the season, junior right-hander Steen Fredrickson improved to 6-0 and upped his GNAC-leading strikeout total to 60, with seven one-hit shutout innings in the opener.
Game 2 carried late drama, as CU overcame a 6-3 deficit to tie the score with two outs in the seventh and force extra frames. The ‘Jackets prevailed once again however, as Jalen Garcia hit a walk-off double in the bottom of the eighth to give the ‘Jackets a 7-6 victory.
“Not much shakes our guys, as they’ve had their hearts broken a lot this year,” Sutton said. “For (Wyatt) Setian to grind out an at-bat to get on and Jalen to put together a phenomenal at-bat to win it for us is something we are used to seeing. Our guys are comfortable in those spots because we have been there so many times this season.”
The second day of the series played out in nearly identical fashion, with the ‘Jackets cruising to a 17-4 win in the opener and holding on for a 7-6 victory to claim the sweep. Concordia put together a four-run sixth inning in Game 2 to pull within a run, but senior Travis Edgar picked up his second save of the year as he finished off the series with a scoreless seventh.
Colton Cosner was the standout player on Day 2, as he approached the MSUB single-game record with seven RBIs in the first game. Four of them came on a grand slam in the sixth inning, and Cosner also had a triple and a leaping catch at the wall in right field to highlight his weekend.
Batting .538 on the weekend, senior Ryan Myers was the Yellowjackets’ most consistent hitter. Myers drew five walks and reached base at .667 in the series, and hit his 11th home run of the year in Game 3. Myers now has 22 career home runs, and is three away from matching the all-time MSUB mark of 25 held by Brody Miller (2011-15). “Ryan has been having quiet, consistent weekends all year long,” said Sutton. “He is putting together a heck of a year. This weekend he got good pitches to hit and did some damage. He is a really patient hitter, and is tough to pitch to because he doesn’t go out of the zone.”
Overall on the weekend MSUB hit .385, got on base at .435, and slugged .649 as a team. Twenty-seven of the team’s 57 hits went for extra bases, as MSUB mashed 20 doubles, two triples, and five home runs. The ‘Jackets totaled 47 runs in the series, and are now 38 runs away from breaking the school record of 357 established in 2015. MSUB was also stellar defensively, with just five errors in the series for a team fielding percentage of .963.
On the mound, the ‘Jackets held the Cavaliers to a team batting average of .242, with 25 strikeouts against 18 walks in 33 innings pitched. MSUB’s staff had a team ERA of 4.09 in the series, and CU slugged just .347 as a team.
The 2018 Yellowjackets have a chance to go down as the best offensive team in GNAC history, as after the weekend they are No. 1 all-time in the GNAC with an average of 8.42 runs per game. Only the 2012 Western Oregon Wolves eclipsed eight runs per game in a season, averaging 8.24. This year’s Yellowjacket team is also No. 1 in GNAC history with 1.34 home runs per game, 4.71 walks per game, 7.71 RBIs per game, and in team slugging percentage at .523.
The Yellowjackets were also named the GNAC Team of the Week after matching the GNAC record for home runs in a four-game series with 13 in a 3-1 series win at Central Washington on March 30-31. MSUB’s last four-game series sweep came on May 5-6, 2016 at home against Saint Martin’s.
After playing its first 34 games of the year on the road, the ‘Jackets continue their three-week home stand with a four-game set against Saint Martin’s University this weekend. Doubleheaders are scheduled for Friday and Saturday at 1 p.m.