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Series split with Wolves keeps MSU Billings atop GNAC standings

Posted at 10:13 PM, Apr 13, 2019
Keven Mackintosh strikes out 12 batters in his Game 2 start, highlighting a big day by the MSUB pitching staff in a doubleheader sweep of Central Washington. (Photo courtesy MSU Billings)


(MSU Billings release)

BILLINGS – Keven Mackintosh threw his second complete game of the 2019 season Saturday evening at Dehler Park, helping the Montana State University Billings baseball team to a doubleheader and series split with visiting Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponent Western Oregon University.

Mackintosh threw 89 pitches to get through Saturday’s second game, and MSUB’s offense scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth to break a 3-3 tie in the 7-3 victory. That came after a 23-10 drubbing by the Wolves in Saturday’s opener, as the top-two teams in the conference settled for a 2-2 series split on the weekend.

“The guys have really embodied the process of what we are trying to do this year,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “When we have those tough games, they really bounce back well. It was big for us to get that fourth game, and it was great to see a lot of guys come up with big knocks and make big pitches for us this weekend.”

Collin Runge, Jared McDonald, and Griffey Halle each hit home runs for the Wolves in the Game 1 blowout, while McDonald tied the GNAC single-game record with five runs scored and also drove in five in the game.

Wyatt Setian hit his eighth home run of the year – a grand slam – in the opener Saturday, and Jalen Garcia, Sam Powers, and Matt Dillon each hit a long ball in Game 2.

The Yellowjackets remained in first place in the conference standings after Saturday’s split, as they are now 19-17 overall and 19-9 in league play. Western Oregon meanwhile stayed in second place, with a record of 18-10 overall and a 15-10 conference record.

Game 1 – Western Oregon 23, MSU Billings 10

In a game that lasted three hours and 56 minutes, and featured 432 combined pitches thrown between the staffs, Western Oregon capitalized with a pair of high-scoring innings to take the opener.

Halle hit a two-run homer in the second off of MSUB starter Jarrod Molnaa, snapping his streak of consecutive innings without allowing an earned run at 26 1/3. That tied Grady Wood of Western Oregon for the third-longest such streak in GNAC history, and it was the second-longest streak in MSUB history.

The Yellowjackets responded immediately however, when Setian smashed a grand slam on the first pitch he saw from WOU starter Alex Roth in the bottom of the second. “We have been saying all year that we are 0-0 after every game, and we reset our approach pregame every day,” Setian said. “I was sitting up the middle, and he made the mistake of throwing it in so I just pulled it.”

MSUB scored five times to take a 5-2 lead, but things started to fall apart after that. WOU scored six in the third, two in the fourth, and six more in the fifth, to open up a 16-5 advantage. Runge and McDonald each hit two-run homers in the third inning, and an ensuing two-run double by Joshua McIntyre wiped out Setian’s slam and the Yellowjackets’ big inning.

Molnaa was driven from the game after 2 2/3 innings pitched, giving up eight runs on nine hits with one strikeout and no walks.

Daniel Cipriano gave the ‘Jackets a burst of life with a two-out triple to left-center in the bottom of the fifth, which plated two more runs. That ended Roth’s afternoon at 4 2/3 innings, as he took the no-decision with eight runs allowed on 10 hits and nine strikeouts to go with four walks. It was the first time this season Roth, the reigning GNAC co-Pitcher of the Year, allowed more than three runs in an outing.

WOU continued to add on as the game progressed slowly, scoring three more in the seventh and four in the eighth to reach its second-highest run total of the season.

MSUB left 14 runners on base while WOU stranded 10, there were 31 combined hits, nine combined errors, and 15 wild pitches thrown in the drawn-out contest.

Game 2 – MSU Billings 7, Western Oregon 3 (7 Innings)

Ryan Roche plated the go-ahead run with a base hit to center in the bottom of the sixth, kicking off a four-run frame that backed Mackintosh’s stellar outing. Setian ripped a two-run double to left-center, and Garcia followed with an RBI-double into the left-field corner that upped the score to 7-3.

Mackintosh took it from there, retiring the Wolves in order in the top of the seventh to secure his second complete game of the season. He struck out five and issued just one walk – an intentional pass – while giving up three runs on six hits and throwing 89 pitches. “Keven was feeling all four of his pitches, and he is an ultimate competitor,” Sutton commented on the left-hander. “When we need him the most, he has been a stopper for us at the back end of a series.”

Powers hit the first pitch thrown by WOU starter Austin Crowson in the third inning deep over the fence in left field, becoming the 13th different MSUB player to hit a home run this season. “We really came out and grinded, and Keven threw it well for us,” Powers said after the doubleheader. “The coaches have done a good job of keeping us prepared, and I just went up there trying to stay aggressive and get my opportunity.”

“Sam has been the ultimate team guy, and he brings great energy,” Sutton said. “He got his opportunity today, and he performed well. It was great to see him do that.”

The only tough inning for Mackintosh was the fourth, when five straight Wolves reached base on four singles and a hit batter. McIntyre had an RBI-single and Mitchell Hulse had a two-run base hit, giving the Wolves a 3-1 lead.

After that, Dillon connected for his GNAC-leading 12th home run of the year, with a solo shot to left field in the bottom of the fourth inning. Garcia made it three straight frames with a solo shot for the ‘Jackets, when he drilled one off of the hitter’s eye in center field in the bottom of the fifth to even the score at 3-3.

Mackintosh retired the final nine batters he faced after his bumpy fourth inning, and relied on a little help from his defense along the way. Hulse lofted a high fly ball to left field that carried to the wall with two outs in the sixth, but Powers timed a jump and snagged it before colliding with the wall.

A similar play by the junior ended the game, as he tracked down Patrick Chung’s soaring fly ball to left and again made a crashing catch against the wall in the bottom of the seventh. “Playing defense is a lot of fun, especially behind someone like K-Mack who fills up the zone,” Powers commented. “He really has a good tempo.”

Runge was walked intentionally to load the bases and set up a force out with two gone in the fourth inning. It was the first walk that Mackintosh had issued in more than a month, as he had gone without a free pass in his last four starts dating back to March 7 at Northwest Nazarene. During that span Mackintosh has struck out 38 and issued no walks other than Saturday’s intentional pass. “I have always had command, and I just hate walks,” Mackintosh said. “I was just trying to throw strikes and let my defense take care of me.”

“Keven is throwing the heck out of it, and I didn’t have many plays to make today,” said Setian on a day where Mackintosh recorded 11 ground outs, four fly outs, and five strikeouts in his outing. “Everyone just gets relaxed when he is on the mound. His pitches were super filthy today, he located in his spots, and did the job.”

Crowson struck out four and walked one, while giving up three runs on six hits and pitching 5 1/3 innings.

THE BUZZ: Mackintosh was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Day…MSUB is now 26-75 all-time against WOU and is 12-31 in games played in Billings…Landon Peterson tied the MSUB single-game record as he drew four walks in Game 1…the 23 runs allowed were the third-most in school history and the most given up by an MSUB team since a 25-7 loss to Azusa pacific on Feb. 16, 2015…Garcia’s home run was the 19th of his career, as he remained No. 4 in MSUB history…Dillon’s 12 homers this year are the fourth-most in MSUB single-season history.

NEXT WEEK: MSUB is home for the third straight weekend, hosting Northwest Nazarene University in a four-game series at Dehler Park. Doubleheaders are scheduled for 1 p.m. on April 19-20.