(MSUB Athletics release)
ELLENSBURG, Wash. – After forcing a decisive Game 7 at the 2018 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships on Friday at the CWU Baseball Field, the Montana State University Billings baseball team fell 8-4 in the title game as Western Oregon University repeated as conference tournament champion.
Michael Gahan threw a 148-pitch, complete-game masterpiece to propel the Yellowjackets to a 6-4 win the opening game on Friday. The Wolves put together a five-run bottom of the first in the title game however, and added on three more in the eighth to claim the title.
Jacob Fricke countered with a complete game in Game 2 for the Wolves and Jacob Martinez was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. WOU won the tournament for the fourth time, after also claiming the trophy in 2013, 2015, and 2017.
MSUB is now 33-18 on the season, setting a program record for victories in a year. Ryan Myers broke the MSUB career home run record with two long balls on Friday, including the 27th of his two-year career in his final at-bat. Kaleo Johnson hit his 17th home run of the year, building on his school single-season record and moving one home run shy of the GNAC single-season record of 18.
Game 1 – MSU Billings 6, Western Oregon 4
MSUB grabbed an early lead and rode Gahan’s inspirational performance on the mound to extend its season to the title game. The righty matched a career-high with six strikeouts, and his fifth of the game helped MSUB break the school single season record for punch outs as it was the staff’s 171st in 2018.
Connor McCord shot the gap in right-center for a two-out double in the first, but Gahan stranded the runner thanks to a running catch by Jalen Garcia in the right-center gap.
Myers drilled his record-breaking home run over the fence in right, kicking off a flurry of four straight hits that resulted in a 2-0 lead for the ‘Jackets. WOU nearly got out of the jam after a single run, but third baseman Nyles Nygaard just missed snagging a sharp line drive off the bat of Andrew Schleusner that turned into an RBI-single.
The Wolves got a run back in the second on a first-and-third double steal, but Kade Hall rolled a two-run single into center field in the bottom of the inning to up the Yellowjackets’ lead to 4-1.
A leadoff single by Martinez in the third was erased immediately when Conner Linebarger and Wyatt Setian turned a double play up the middle. WOU inched closer in the top of the fifth inning, when Jay Leverett punched a two-out, RBI-single into right field to plate Hunter Johnson.
Hits by Linebarger and Colton Cosner gave the ‘Jackets a needed layer of insurance, building the lead to 6-2 with nine defensive outs left to get.
WOU plated a run in the seventh on an RBI-groundout by Martinez, and Cody Dykstra hit a solo home run to right in the top of the ninth. But Gahan was determined to finish what he started, coaxing a pair of ground outs to end the game.
The ‘Jackets won despite leaving 15 runners on base in the game, as they totaled 13 hits in the opener. WOU starter and GNAC co-Pitcher of the Year Alex Roth was driven from the game after one inning, as he allowed four runs on seven hits. Gabe Benavides struck out six and allowed two runs – both unearned – in four strong innings of relief for the Wolves.
Game 2 – Western Oregon 8, MSU Billings 4
A five-run first inning was the difference in the final game of the tournament, as the Wolves put MSUB in an immediate hole that it never recovered from. WOU sent 10 batters to the plate in the opening frame, and only a stellar defensive stop from Linebarger up the middle and a throw to the plate by Wyatt Setian prevented the inning from continuing.
Senior Adam Cox took over in the first, and struck out six batters while giving up no runs on four hits over the next 4 2/3 innings of the game.
Hayden Humphrey got MSUB on the board with an RBI-groundout in the second, and Setian added his fourth home run of the year in the third to close the gap to three runs.
Cox worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the fourth, as he got Connor McCord to pop out and followed with a strikeout of Jared McDonald to strand the runners.
In a game where Fricke notched just one strikeout, he pitched to contact and let the defense work behind him. By the end, he collected 17 of 27 outs by way of the groundout.
Johnson’s solo home run was smashed over the fence in left in the top of the sixth inning, as the ‘Jackets kept themselves in the game and trailed just 5-3.
WOU put together a rally that sealed the game in the eighth inning however, with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by McCord and a clutch two-run double into the right-field corner by McDonald that made it an 8-3 game. Fricke responded with a shutdown 1-2-3 top of the eighth, and after Myers’ towering home run to right in the ninth he retired the next three batters to end the game.
THE BUZZ: Gahan was selected as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Day…Hall broke the MSUB single-season record for hits with 75, passing Luke Reinschmidt’s mark of 74 by one…Garcia tied Brody Miller’s single-season record for doubles, as he finished the year with 20…MSUB finished the year with a record of 7-4 against Western Oregon…it was the Yellowjackets’ fifth appearance in the conference tournament and the first time the team advanced to the title game.
LOOKING AHEAD: Though the Yellowjackets made their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division II west region rankings this season, the team dropped out of the top-eight entering this week’s GNAC Championships. The west region selection show is at 8 p.m. Mountain time on Sunday evening, and will be streamed live through www.ncaa.com.