(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – Opening the final regular-season series of the 2018 season in style, Montana State University Billings swept Central Washington University in a doubleheader at Dehler Park on Thursday in Great Northwest Athletic Conference baseball action to reach 30 wins for the second time in school history.
The Yellowjackets rolled to a 10-6 win in the opener, before coming from behind for a 7-4 triumph in the nightcap to tie the school record for wins in a season. MSUB improved to 30-14, matching the 2016 Yellowjackets (30-20) for the most wins, and also upped their GNAC record to 29-9.
Wyatt Setian hit his third home run of the year in Game 1, a three-run shot in the fifth that provided what wound up being important insurance runs. Kaleo Johnson hammered his 10th long ball of the year to left amid a 4-RBI Game 2 performance, and Conner Linebarger added his sixth of the season to give MSUB a boost in the nightcap.
Senior Tristan Shockley pitched MSUB to the Game 2 win, striking out four in 3 1/3 solid innings of relief to finish the game.
Central Washington fell to 24-24 on the year overall, and remains in third place in the conference standings with a record of 19-19 in league play. Dustin Braun and James Smith each homered in Game 1 for the Wildcats, before Mitch Lesmeister went deep in Game 2 and drove in 3 of 4 runs for CWU in the game.
Game 1 – MSU Billings 10, Central Washington 6
The bottom of the lineup rose to the occasion in Game 1, as the 6-through-9 hitters in MSUB’s order had all 10 RBIs to lead the way in the victory.
The ‘Jackets got off to a 5-0 lead through the first three innings, with Andrew Schleusner and Hayden Humphrey each driving in a pair of runs in the early going. The ‘Cats pulled within two runs after the top of the fifth inning, when Braun hit a solo home run to center to make the score 5-3.
The defining inning was a five-run fifth for the ‘Jackets, as a leadoff single by Johnson and back-to-back walks loaded the bases with one out. Colton Cosner delivered a two-run double to right, and Setian smashed the first pitch of his at-bat over the left-field fence for a three-run shot to make the score 10-3.
CWU kept its hopes alive with a three-run sixth inning, when Smith drove a high fly ball out to left field for his ninth home run of the year. The three-run shot drove MSUB starter Steen Fredrickson from the game after 111 pitches, but the right-hander still recorded the win to improve his spotless record to 7-0 on the season. Overall Fredrickson allowed six runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings of work, while striking out six to bring his GNAC-leading total to 69 on the season.
Smith’s home run proved to be the final offensive strike of the game, as MSUB’s bullpen held tough over the final three frames. Talon Derrick took the ball in the top of the seventh inning, and struck out a pair while giving up just one hit in two shutout innings of relief. Adam Cox followed with a scoreless ninth inning, working around a walk and ending the game with a strikeout to give the MSUB pitchers 10 in the game.
Tristin Parton, Jaden Hassell, and Lesmeister each had a pair of hits for CWU, while Braun finished Game 1 3-for-5 with two runs scored. CWU starter Connor Stevenson took the loss, giving up five runs on six hits in three innings of work. Lefty Jacob Applebach finished it off for the ‘Cats, striking out two while allowing no runs or hits over the final two innings.
The Wildcats left 13 runners on base in the game, including the bases loaded in the sixth inning as they missed an opportunity to narrow the deficit.
Game 2 – MSU Billings 7, Central Washington 4 (7 Innings)
A CWU throwing error opened the door for an MSUB rally in the sixth, and the Yellowjackets took advantage with a game-winning four-run inning.
Kade Hall legged out a ground ball to shortstop, and when Christopher Dalto’s throw was in the dirt, Cosner was able to dash home and tie the score at 4-4 with two outs. Ryan Myers followed with a go-ahead RBI-single to left, and Johnson made it a three-run cushion with a two-run base hit through the left side on a 3-2 pitch.
The late rally backed Shockley’s stellar performance, as the righty finished off the game with a scoreless top of the seventh inning. The right-hander gave up one run on two hits, while throwing 65 pitches to earn the win.
CWU’s Dom Baker took the tough loss, as only one of the five runs that he allowed went into the books as earned. Wildcat starter Griffin Davis was also solid, striking out five and walking none while allowing two runs on six hits over the first 3 1/3 innings of play.
Junior catcher Landon Peterson negated a leadoff single by Parton in the top of the third inning, as he cut down CWU’s leadoff man trying to steal second. It wound up being an important defensive play, as the ‘Cats rallied with two outs in the frame and took a 2-0 lead on a two-run single by Lesmeister.
MSUB responded immediately however, when Hall led off the third with a single and Johnson hit a soaring two-run homer to left with two outs to even the score at 2-2.
An RBI-single by Braun in the fourth and a solo home run by Lesmeister in the fifth made it a 4-2 ballgame, but Linebarger hit the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the fifth over the fence in right to pull the ‘Jackets within a run.
The Wildcats left nine more runners on base in Game 2, while the Yellowjackets played errorless defense and stranded only seven runners.
THE BUZZ: Shockley was picked as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Day…MSUB is now 47-46 all-time against CWU and is 22-24 in home games against the ‘Cats…MSUB broke the school single season records for runs (370), RBIs (340), and total bases (787) with its performance on Thursday…Hall tied the school single-season record for runs in a season, reaching 52 on the year to match Zach Robinson’s total from the 2017 season.
COMING UP: Senior Day is Friday at Dehler Park, with the 10 graduating players from MSUB’s program being recognized in a pregame ceremony. First pitch of the doubleheader against CWU is at noon, with the ceremony beginning at 11:40 a.m. on the field. Live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available for the ceremony and both games of the doubleheader, online through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal.