(MSUB Athletics release)
PORTLAND, Ore. – A dozen players from the Montana State University Billings baseball team earned all-Great Northwest Athletic Conference recognition, and three earned major awards announced by the conference office on Tuesday.
Yellowjacket head coach Aaron Sutton was named the co-Coach of the Year in conjunction with Rob Vance of Concordia University. Junior right-handed pitcher Steen Fredrickson was named the co-Pitcher of the Year along with Alex Roth of Western Oregon University, and junior Kaleo Johnson was selected by the conference’s coaches as the GNAC Newcomer of the Year.
“Steen was the backbone for our staff all year long,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “He kept us in every game hethrew, and was an absolute bulldog. He’s the guy we wanted in the No. 1 spot to go out and get each series started out the right way.
“Kaleo coming into the conference as a transfer and having the year he did was special,” continued Sutton. “The kid brought it every day offensively and defensively. He came up with a lot of big knocks and this is a well deserved reward for him.
“Receiving the coach award is a reflection of my coaching staff, and the hard work they have put in and what they bring to the table,” Sutton said referring to assistant coaches Ryan Wright, Grant Hamilton, and Spencer Pollock. “They have helped take our program to the next level. The players are the ones who play, and we do this every day for the guys. They have had a special year, and we are honored to be recognized.”
Central Washington University’s James Smith III was named the GNAC Player of the Year, and Kolbe Bales of Western Oregon University was picked as the GNAC Freshman of the Year.
MSUB had six players earn first-team honors, four on the second team, and a pair on the honorable mention list. Nine of MSUB’s 12 selections – including all six first-teamers – were unanimous, and three earned all-conference for the second time in their career.
“It’s great for our club to have a lot of individuals recognized for the tremendous seasons they have had,” said Sutton. “Speaking for them, they couldn’t have done it without their teammates pushing them every day, and we have had some guys have some really special years. Offensively our hitters could go down as the best in conference history, and that is something special too. I thought overall our guys were pretty well represented on the all-conference selections.”
Senior first baseman Ryan Myers was among the first-team all-conference selections, as he enters this weekend’s GNAC Championships leading the league with 12 home runs and an on-base percentage of .534. The slugger, who was a second-team all-league pick last year, is batting .371 on the season and has driven in 43 runs.
Another second-time all-conference pick was junior centerfielder Jalen Garcia, who claimed first-team all-GNAC after earning second-team a season ago. Garcia leads the team and ranks second in the GNAC with 47 RBIs this spring, and is batting .365 with 18 doubles, seven triples, and seven home runs. Garcia also leads the league with an MSUB single-season record 24 stolen bases, and is slugging .657 with 51 runs scored.
After earning second-team all-GNAC in 2016, senior Adam Cox was a first-team selection as he emerged as the top closer in the conference. Carrying a 3.04 ERA on the year, Cox has struck out 41 batters in 23 2/3 innings pitched. He leads the GNAC with six saves, and has had multiple strikeouts in 12 of his 13 appearances.
Earning first-team all-league honors for the first time were Fredrickson, Johnson, and junior second baseman Conner Linebarger.
Voted as the league’s top pitcher, Fredrickson leads the GNAC with 69 strikeouts and is a perfect 7-0 in 12 starts this spring. The Ashland, Ore., native has a 3.88 ERA in 65.0 innings pitched, and his opponents’ batting average of .231 is the second-lowest in the league.
Tied with Myers for the GNAC lead in home runs, Johnson has also smashed a dozen long balls and is on record-setting pace with the highest slugging percentage in GNAC single-season history at .786. In just 36 starts, Johnson has added 12 doubles and 46 RBIs to his home run total, and leads the GNAC with a .405 batting average while reaching base at .494.
Linebarger has started 45 of 46 games primarily as the team’s second baseman, and has a .309 batting average with 10 doubles, two triples, and six home runs. Among the team’s leaders in production, Linebarger has 39 RBIs while slugging at .503 and reaching base at a clip of .405.
Representing the ‘Jackets on the second team were senior Kade Hall, sophomores Andrew Schleusner and Hayden Humphrey, and freshman Wyatt Setian.
The top leadoff man in the conference, Hall enters the week batting .359 with 18 doubles, eight home runs, and 38 RBIs. The only Yellowjacket to start all 46 games, Hall has tied the MSUB single-season record with 52 runs scored, while adding nine stolen bases and slugging .578.
Raising his batting average 100 points compared to last year, Schleusner has emerged as a key component both defensively behind the plate and as a hitter. He has 13 doubles, three home runs, and has driven in 34 runs while earning 42 starts this spring and batting .308.
In his first year with the ‘Jackets, Humphrey has found a way into the lineup both in right field and as a designated hitter. In 100 at-bats, Humphrey is batting .350 with a pair of home runs and 19 RBIs, and is reaching base at a clip of .455.
The top defensive shortstop in the conference, Setian has started 37 games and is fielding at a clip of .941 up the middle. He is batting over .300 in his last three series, and overall has upped his average to .238 while hitting three home runs and driving in 21 out of the No. 9 spot.
A pair of upperclassman pitchers earned honorable mention recognition, with senior Tristan Shockley and junior Jared Winslow being recognized for their work on MSUB’s staff.
Shockley has pitched in 16 games primarily out of the bullpen, while holding a 4.07 ERA in 42 innings pitched. The righty has 44 strikeouts against just 16 walks on the season, and has allowed just five runs over his last 10 appearances out of the ‘pen.
Used as a starter this spring, Winslow has appeared in a dozen games and has a 5.76 ERA in 45 1/3 innings pitched. With four wins this season, Winslow is now No. 2 in MSUB history with a dozen victories in his three seasons.
MSUB (30-16, 29-11 GNAC) is next in action on Wednesday, in the opening round of the 2018 GNAC Championships. The regular-season champion Yellowjackets take on No. 4 seed Concordia University at 3 p.m. Pacific time at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash.