(Editor’s note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – It has been quite a while since the Montana State University Billings softball team has played at Avitus Group Stadium on MSUB campus. A home series against Western Oregon had to be rescheduled in March due to poor weather, resulting in 34 straight games away from Billings to start the year. Finally, the Yellowjackets play at home Saturday and Sunday as they host Central Washington University in a pair of doubleheaders starting at noon both days.
Playing in a familiar setting couldn’t come at a better time for the Yellowjackets (10-24, 3-13), whose recent struggles have dropped them to eighth place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings. Central Washington (22-12, 13-3) will be a challenge as they enter the weekend on a three game win streak.
“It is very exciting to finally be at home this weekend,” commented head coach Jessica Rayman. “I think it is a huge advantage to be able to sleep in our beds the night before we play and get to play in front of our home fans. Central Washington is going to be tough, as they do have quite a bit of speed and quality defense. We just need to come out ready to compete every pitch.”
On a positive note, Madison Kelly continues to improve at the plate and leads the team with a .294 batting average in 27 starts at catcher. Kelly recorded six hits in four games against Concordia University last weekend and has been a senior leader on a young squad in 2019. Sophomore Allie Hughes (.277 AVG, 5-2B, 1-3B, 3-HR, 14 RBI) and Freshman Sidney Pollard (.275 AVG, 5-2B, 1-3B, 12 RBI) have also made recent positive impacts in the MSUB lineup.
LAST TIME OUT: There is no denying last weekend was one of the worst outing of the season for MSU Billings softball. The team went 1-3 against Concordia at Porter Park, then made up a doubleheader on Monday against Western Oregon. The Wolves thoroughly dominated with a 12-0 win in game one and 11-1 win game two. Both were five inning games. The Yellowjacket offense remained stagnant for much of the day and MSUB managed just four combined hits. One bright spot was Brittannee Fisher. The ‘Jacket starting first baseman smacked her third home run of the year to get MSUB on the scoreboard in game two. A sophomore, Fisher has 14 career home runs and is slugging .404 in 2019.
AT THE PLATE: The Yellowjackets are hitting .247 as a team (eighth) with an on base percentage of .354. Kelly and Hughes hold the team’s top batting averages but freshman Cailee Morgan is still keeping pace. Morgan is hitting .273 in 33 starts with three doubles, three triples, and 11 runs batted in. She had a triple against Western Oregon in the team’s doubleheader last weekend. Shortstop Rylan Austin has also made a positive impact for MSUB, hitting .262 with three doubles, one home run, and 11 runs driven in.
POWER POTENTIAL: Power in the lineup has been less frequent compared to the senior heavy squad in of 2018, but several players have hit the ball out of the park to produce offense. Fisher shares the team lead in the category with four long balls along with third baseman Payton Reynolds. Hughes has three homers and Kelly has two. Kelly also leads the team in slugging percentage at .485. Fisher has been walked most often with 19 bases on balls.
IN THE CIRCLE: Maddy Lincoln (4-13) has 22 appearances and 17 starts this season. Her 4.74 ERA ranks first on the team and she has 14 complete games. In 109.1 innings, Lincoln has 76 strikeouts, 40 walks, six wild pitches, and seven home runs allowed. Alyssa Etheridge is the other mainstay starter in the rotation, having split time with Lincoln. The freshman from Grants Pass, Oregon is 5-8 with a 5.02 ERA. She has thrown 76.2 innings and struck out 52 hitters with 71 walks.
Etheridge threw the first no-hitter in MSUB school history on March 8 against Saint Martin’s University and opponents are hitting .230 against the right hander. Haley Couch (1-2, 6.21 ERA) has seven appearances, four out of the bullpen and Austin (0-1, 4.20 ERA) allowed three earned run over 5.0 innings in her first pitching appearance of the season. Austin pitched extensively in high school as a starter in Medford, Oregon.
Scouting Central Washington University
Game Day: Saturday, April 13 – 12 p.m. & 2 p.m. (Doubleheader)
Game Day: Sunday, April 14 – 12:05 p.m. & 2 p.m. (Doubleheader)
2018-19 Record: 22-12, 13-3 GNAC, 5-3 home, 5-0 away, 12-9 neutral
Head Coach: Mike Larabee (third season)
2018 Record: 31-16, 19-9 GNAC, 10-4 home, 12-6 away, 9-6 neutral
A perennial top contender for the GNAC title, the Wildcats are ranked first in the conference through 16 games and have yet to lose a game on the road this season. Last weekend, Central Washington picked up a doubleheader win over Western Washington 6-2 and 6-3 and split with Simon Fraser with a 12-3 win and a 3-2 loss.
The Wildcats rank second in the conference in team batting (.333 AVG) and fourth in team pitching (4.10 ERA). Savannah Egbert is tied for second in the GNAC for hits (50), first in runs scored (39), second in stolen bases (16), and tied for third in walks (19). Egbert, a junior from Connell, Washington is a .442 AVG hitter (fourth) and gets on base at a better than 50-percent clip (.543).
Katie Kastning (sophomore, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) ranks second on the team with a .390 AVG in 32 starts and has a team high 11 doubles (third in GNAC) and 33 runs batted in. Maddy Zerr (.356 AVG, 6 HR, 31 RBI), Alycia Bannan (.342, 4 HR, 27 RBI), Kayla Smith (.340, 9-2B, 13 RBI), and Rachael Johnson (.333, 1 HR, 7 RBI) all average a hit or better every three at bats.
The Wildcats have used a mixture of four pitchers in 2019. Sophomore right-hander Lexie Strasser has a team leading 22 appearances and 119.1 innings pitched. The Chehalis, Washington native holds a 9-8 record and 3.62 ERA with 33 walks and 78 strikeouts. The ‘Jackets are also likely to face freshman Samantha Stanfield, a right hander from Montesano, Washington. Stanfield is 8-1 in nine starts with a 6.29 ERA and 54.1 innings pitched. She has amassed 44 strikeouts and 22 walks in her first college season.
Central Washington has defeated MSU Billings in softball 13 straight games dating back to 2015. Last season, the ‘Jackets suffered two five-inning losses 10-0 and 10-2. They will need to receive stellar pitching from both Maddy Lincoln and Alyssa Etheridge to win the series.
AROUND THE LEAGUE: Sophomore outfielder Ayanna Arceneaux (Western Oregon) was named GNAC player of the week after leading the Wolves with a .667 batting average in four games against Northwest Nazarene with a run, three RBI, and a double. Sidney Pollard was nominated by MSUB. Sophomore Jordan Adams was named pitcher of the week. Adams picked up two wins for the Nighthawks at Western Oregon and allowed just one run on 10 hits, walked five, and struck out 14.
Central Washington leads the GNAC with a 13-3 record, followed by Western Washington (13-7), Western Oregon (10-6), and Concordia (10-6). With three straight losses, the Yellowjackets moved down to last place at 3-13, one game behind Simon Fraser (4-16) who had one win last weekend.
HOW TO FOLLOW: Both doubleheaders at Avitus Group Stadium will be livestreamed via the MSUB Stretch Internet Portal. For periodic updates and team news, follow @MSUBSoftball on twitter. Ticket for the home opener are $5 for the general public, $3 for seniors (age 65 and up) and students grades 7-12, and free for MSUB students, faculty, and staff as well as kids grade six and under.