(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – Ending the season with a tough outing in a doubleheader loss to Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponent Central Washington University, the Montana State University Billings baseball team celebrated its 10 graduating players on Senior Day at Dehler Park Friday afternoon.
The Wildcats spoiled Senior Day with an 11-4 win in the opener and a 21-6 thumping to finish the regular season. CWU improved to 26-24 overall, and clinched the No. 3 seed into next week’s GNAC Championships with a final conference record of 21-19. James Smith, Tristin Parton, and Dustin Braun each homered Saturday for the Wildcats, who racked up 32 runs on 27 hits in the one-sided doubleheader.
“Senior Day is an emotional day for a lot of these guys, but we didn’t show up to play today and we have to tip our cap to Central,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “They came out and played really well. We have to flush this one quick, and we talked to the guys about how this doesn’t take away from the regular season that they had. It is one of the best seasons in program history, and now we have to take that confidence and go get ready to try to win the conference tournament.”
The Yellowjackets slipped to 30-16 with the losses, but still finished the regular season at the top of the conference standings with a league mark of 29-11. Kaleo Johnson homered in each game Saturday, as he upped his season total to 12 and pulled even with teammate Ryan Myers for the most long balls in the GNAC. Colton Cosner hit his third home run of the year in Game 1, and Landon Peterson added his first in Game 2 as the Yellowjackets pushed their season total to 62 and are one long ball away from tying the GNAC single-season record held by Northwest Nazarene (2017).
Game 1 – Central Washington 11, MSU Billings 4
In an early indicator of what was to come Friday, Parton hit the very first pitch of the afternoon over the fence in straightaway right field to give the Wildcats an immediate 1-0 lead. Though the Yellowjackets started well and led 4-1 after three innings, CWU scored 10 unanswered runs over the next four innings to secure the Game 1 win.
Parton stole the show by going 5-for-6 in the game, and had recorded three legs of the cycle with a home run, a double, and a single by the top of the fifth inning. The Wildcat leftfielder nearly achieved the feat his second time up in the fifth, when he blasted a long fly ball off the wall in straightaway center field. Because the bases were loaded however, he had to stop at first base on what otherwise would have been a clean bid for the elusive three-base hit.
Parton settled for an RBI single to cap off the five-run fifth inning, which followed a three-run third and the Yellowjackets never recovered.
Mitch Lesmeister went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs in the opener, and six other Wildcats drove in a run in the balanced scoring effort. JJ Asinas earned the win for CWU, striking out four and giving up just two hits in four shutout innings of relief.
Johnson’s first RBI of the day came in the bottom of the first on a base hit, and he added a solo home run in the third to straightaway center field. The productive swings by Johnson sandwiched a two-run shot by Cosner, as he found the jet stream blowing out to center field and lifted a two-run shot over the wall to make it a 4-1 game.
MSUB didn’t score the rest of the game however, and wound up leaving eight runners on base in the loss. Michael Gahan started and allowed nine runs on eight hits in four innings pitched. Talon Derrick and Josh Harrington each surrendered one run in two innings of relief, and Carson Woolery tossed a scoreless ninth inning with a strikeout.
Johnson was the lone Yellowjacket with multiple hits in Game 1, and MSUB struck out eight times against the CWU pitching staff.
Game 2 – Central Washington 21, MSU Billings 6 (7 Innings)
In their most lopsided defeat of the season, the ‘Jackets allowed an eight-run third inning and an 11-run fifth as Central Washington ensured a split of the four-game series. Braun finished the game 3-for-4 with five RBIs, while Yi-an Pan had four RBIs in the nightcap.
MSUB got off to a good start, scoring first when Jalen Garcia broke the MSUB single-season record with his seventh triple in the bottom of the second inning. The 2-0 lead didn’t last for long however, as CWU’s first big inning of the game featured RBIs from five different players.
Johnson’s second home run of the day kicked off the bottom of the third, and Cosner added another RBI with a base hit as the ‘Jackets fought back and trailed 8-4.
The CWU offense was too much however, as Pan added a two-run single in the fourth before the 11-run outburst in the fifth that put the game away. The Wildcats had seven hits and capitalized on an MSUB error in the big fifth inning, the last of which was Braun’s towering three-run home run to left-center that made the score 21-4.
Pinch hitting in the bottom of the inning, Peterson ripped a 2-1 pitch off the left pillar of the scoreboard at Dehler Park, which plated Chase Teter and made it a 21-6 game. Neither team scored over the final two innings of play.
The ‘Jackets used five different pitchers in the game, each giving up at least one run. Making his first appearance since mid-March, Tanner Cantwell threw the final 2 2/3 innings, notching six strikeouts and throwing 67 pitches to finish the game.
CWU starter Seth Pedersen gave up five runs on seven hits in four innings, and Micah Richardson and Keegan Kast combined to finish the game for the ‘Cats.
THE BUZZ: Johnson was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Day…CWU is 48-47 all-time against MSUB and is 26-22 in games played at Dehler Park…Garcia broke Drew Fosnes’ triples record, as he had six in the 2013 season…Myers was hit by a pitch for the 19th time this season, breaking the record of 18 held by Corey Morris (2016).
NEXT UP: MSUB competes in the GNAC Championships next week in Ellensburg, Wash., in the tournament hosted by Central Washington. The Yellowjackets’ first game is Wednesday, May 9 at 3 p.m. Pacific, and they will find out their opponent on Saturday after Concordia University and Saint Martin’s University complete their series in Lacey, Wash. If Concordia wins one game in Saturday’s doubleheader, it will clinch the fourth and final spot. If the Cavaliers lose both games Saturday, Northwest Nazarene University will earn the final playoff spot.