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MSU Billings welcomes Western Oregon in battle of GNAC’s top teams

Posted at 5:31 PM, Apr 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-11 20:37:12-04

(Editor’s note: MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – The top-two teams in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference converge on Dehler Park this weekend, as first-place Montana State University Billings hosts second-place Western Oregon University in a pivotal four-game series.

The Wolves (16-8, 13-8 GNAC) got the best of the Yellowjackets (17-15, 17-7) when the teams met in Monmouth, Oregon on March 2-3 to open the conference series. WOU won 3 of 4 games in the series, but since then MSUB has gone 17-4 and won five straight GNAC series to vault to the top of the conference standings.

This weekend’s matchup will feature the reigning GNAC regular-season champion Yellowjackets and the reigning GNAC tournament champion Wolves. Doubleheaders are scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at Dehler Park, and live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available through the MSUB Stretch Internet portal online here. For the latest and most up-to-date information regarding weather-related adjustments, visit the MSUB baseball schedule page online here.

“Our guys are looking forward to another weekend at home,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “It is going to be a very competitive weekend and some good baseball should be played.”

Making its 2019 home debut last weekend, MSUB had a good showing in scoring 43 runs and winning 3 of 4 games against Saint Martin’s University. “This weekend is going to be all about coming out and taking care of us,” said Sutton. “Our focus has been on that all year long, and nothing changes going into our next series against WOU. Our week of practice has been crisp, and we are still working on tightening some things up in all facets of the game.”

REGIONAL RANKING REPORT: The Yellowjackets climbed to No. 7 in the latest National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association west region top-10, up one spot from last week’s No. 8 ranking. The initial NCAA D2 west region rankings, which will ultimately determine the six-team field for the west-region playoffs, will be released next week.

SCHLEUSNER GNAC & NCBWA POTW, JOINS INSIDER: Junior Andrew Schleusner was selected as the GNAC and NCBWA West Region Player of the Week, after going 9-for-16 at the plate and leading the team with eight RBIs over the weekend. Schleusner racked up four doubles and hit his first home run of the year, posting a 1.000 slugging percentage. Overall he is batting .318 on the season, and is tied for the team lead with 10 doubles while ranking second with 24 RBIs.

Schleusner was featured on GNAC Insider, the weekly radio program of the conference, on Tuesday evening. Listen to the interview online here.

REIGINING PITCHERS OF THE YEAR SET TO SQUARE OFF: Friday’s Game 1 matchup features two of the top pitchers in the league, in MSUB’s Steen Fredrickson and WOU’s Alex Roth. The two shared the 2018 GNAC Pitcher of the Year award, and are each frontrunners to repeat with the honor during the 2019 season. Roth pitched the Wolves to an 8-6 win on March 2 in the first game he faced Fredrickson, posting seven strikeouts and three walks with no runs on two hits in five innings. Fredrickson struck out five and walked three, while giving up four runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings and taking the no-decision.

RECORD POWER SURGE HAS ‘JACKETS ON PACE: The Yellowjackets tied their own GNAC record of 13 home runs in a four-game series last week, upping their season total to 46. That total is already the second-most in MSUB history and seventh-most in GNAC history with 16 regular-season games left to play. The ‘Jackets also set the school record for single-game home runs with six in Game 3 against the Saints.

MSUB is averaging 1.44 home runs per game, which is the sixth-highest total in all of the NCAA. It is also the second-highest per-game mark in GNAC history, behind only last year’s record mark of 1.53 home runs per game. The Yellowjackets are on pace to give their GNAC record of 78 home runs from 2018 a run over the final weeks of the 2019 season.

The Yellowjackets’ power has been balanced up and down the lineup, as 12 different players have hit a home run and seven different players have at least three home runs. Only the 2008 MSUB team (13) had more different players hit a home run in a single season.

CIPRIANO AMONG GNAC LEADERS: Junior Daniel Cipriano hit three home runs in the series against SMU, raising his total on the year to 10 to tie for the GNAC lead with teammate Matt Dillon. Cipriano is also No. 12 in the NCAA in on-base percentage at .535, is No. 11 in slugging percentage at .789, and is batting .400 overall on the season.

DILLON DELIVERS WALK-OFF HR: Senior Matt Dillon had perhaps the biggest swing of the bat in last weekend’s series against SMU, as he drilled a two-run, walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 2. Dillon then hit his 10th homer of the year in the series finale, pulling him even with Cipriano for the top mark in the conference. Dillon is batting .309 on the year, and is close behind Cipriano at No. 25 in the NCAA with a slugging percentage of .734.

SETIAN CONTINUES TO LEAD GNAC: Sophomore shortstop Wyatt Setian continues to lead the GNAC in hits with 42 on the season, and his batting average of .336 is seventh-best in the league. The lone player to have started all 32 of MSUB’s games this season, Setian is also tied for the team lead with 10 doubles and is slugging .576 on the season.

GARCIA NABS ANOTHER RECORD: Senior Jalen Garcia scored four runs in the third game of the weekend, which tied the MSUB school record. It was Garcia’s third Yellowjacket single-game record he has matched, as he has also tied the marks of seven at-bats and two home runs. Garcia is now tied with Casey Merritt (’17) for No. 3 in school history with 99 runs scored. Garcia now needs five more runs to break into the GNAC top-20, and he also moved up to No. 14 in GNAC history with 105 career RBIs.

ARPAN RIPS A PAIR: Junior Chris Arpan doubled his 2019 home run tally last weekend, hitting two long balls during the record-setting Game 3. One of Arpan’s shots cleared the hitter’s eye in straightaway center field, a towering blast to the deepest part of the ballpark. It was the first home run hit over the hitter’s eye since Ryan Myers achieved the feat on March 24, 2017 in a game against Northwest Nazarene.

MOLNAA’S SCORELESS STREAKS: Senior right-hander Jarrod Molnaa had a string of 24 1/3 consecutive innings without allowing a run snapped in the fifth inning of his start against Saint Martin’s. It went down as the second-longest scoreless inning string in MSUB history, as he came up just two innings shy of Kyle McBride’s record of 26 1/3 innings set between March 13-April 21, 2006.

Although he allowed four runs in the frame, they all came after a two-out error was committed and were unearned runs. Therefore, Molnaa’s streak of 25 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run remains intact going into this weekend. He will have a chance at both the school record of 29 2/3, held by McBride, and the GNAC record of 29, held by Nick Waechter of Western Oregon (2005), in his next turn on the mound.

FREDRICKSON EARNS 16TH CAREER WIN: Senior Steen Fredrickson picked up the 16th win of his career last week, and improved to 4-1 on the season. Fredrickson also finished off an impressive scoreless inning streak, as he reached 18 2/3 for the third-longest in MSUB history. His string of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run meanwhile reached 20 2/3, which was also good for No. 3 in the MSUB record books.

The fourth-year senior also reached No. 13 in GNAC history with 170 career strikeouts. He needs five more to break into the top-10 in conference history, and the mark is also the third-highest in MSUB career history.

BARKLEY SHARP AGAIN: Redshirt freshman left-hander Dylan Barkley was locked in again last week, matching his season high with six innings pitched for the third time this year. He struck out six and walked none, while scattering two runs on four hits. Over his last five starts, Barkley has struck out 31 while issuing just three free passes, the key factor in him pitching deep into ballgames.

MACKINTOSH STAYS IN THE ZONE: Junior lefty Keven Mackintosh made it four straight starts without issuing a walk, and he made it through five innings despite a tough first frame in which he allowed four runs. After that he was solid, with six strikeouts and no free passes. Mackintosh has struck out 33 and walked none over his last 25 2/3 innings, and has a WHIP of 0.82 during that span.

LAY GRABS A SAVE: Junior Sterling Lay picked up his first save of the season last week, as he tossed the final three innings in MSUB’s big 17-5 win in Game 3. Lay matched his season high with four strikeouts, and gave up just one run on two hits over his three frames of work.

Western Oregon University Wolves
Friday, April 12, 2019 – 1 PM DOUBLEHEADER – Dehler Park
Saturday, April 13, 2019 – 1 PM DOUBLEHEADER – Dehler Park
2019 Record: 16-8, 13-8 GNAC
Head Coach: Kellen Walker, 7th season
2018 Record: 27-21, 24-16 GNAC (2nd place, GNAC Tournament Champion)
First Meeting: Mar. 2-3 at Monmouth, OR | WOU 8, MSUB 6 | WOU 8, MSUB 6 | WOU 12, MSUB 11 | MSUB 7, WOU 3

The Wolves completed just one game in their scheduled four-game series against Northwest Nazarene last weekend. After WOU claimed the opener 13-1, NNU took a 1-0 lead before Game 2 was suspended in the fourth inning. The final two games of the series were cancelled due to inclement weather at the WOU Baseball Field.

Western Oregon is one of the most complete teams in the region, as it leads the GNAC with a slash line of .335/.417/.514, and has GNAC-bests in ERA (4.27) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.52).

Roth is the early leader in the GNAC Pitcher of the Year conversation, and has been named the NCBWA West Region and National Pitcher of the Week this season. Along with Roth, Jacob Fricke has had a start in every series, while Gabe Benavides and Austin Crowson have made five starts apiece. Crowson has punched out 33 batters and ranks second on the team with 25 innings pitched, and he carries a 4.32 ERA. Fricke meanwhile holds a 6.26 ERA and has 21 strikeouts against nine walks in 27 1/3 innings.

True freshman twins Derek Maiben and Jacob Maiben have torn it up to start their collegiate careers, and are two of the top players in the conference. Derek Maiben leads the league with a .452 batting average in 62 at-bats, and he holds an on-base percentage of .547 while stealing seven bases in nine attempts. Jacob Maiben meanwhile is close behind with a .422 batting average, and has earned 13 starts while playing in 21 of 24 games.

Griffey Halle and Jared McDonald have provided the pop in WOU’s lineup, with six and five home runs, respectively. Halle’s 29 RBIs are the most in the GNAC, and he also leads the league with five triples while slugging at .692. McDonald meanwhile carries a slash line of .407/.500/.654, and is second in the league with 26 RBIs.

As a team WOU has stolen 33 bases in 45 attempts, and is solid defensively with a fielding percentage of .957. WOU is second in the league behind MSUB with 21 home runs, and is averaging 8.5 runs per game.

The Series: MSUB is 24-73 all-time against WOU and has a record of 10-29 in games played in Billings. The Wolves are 15-5 over the last 20 meetings between the teams.

Last Time Out: The Wolves swiped two of their wins in the conference-opening series in the final inning, scoring four in the bottom of the ninth in Game 1 and winning on McDonald’s three-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2.