(Editor’s note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – One is the magic number for the Montana State University Billings baseball team to claim its fourth Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season title in the last five seasons, after a doubleheader sweep of Concordia University on Thursday afternoon at Dehler Park.
A three-run home run by senior Matt Dillon in the bottom of the sixth proved to be the game-winning hit in a 5-2 Game 1 win, and a three-run home run by freshman Ryan Roche in the bottom of the sixth was the biggest swing of the bat in a 6-2 triumph in the nightcap.
The Yellowjackets (28-18, 28-10 GNAC) will win the 2019 GNAC regular-season title with one win on Friday or one loss by second-place Western Oregon University. The Wolves play at Saint Martin’s University kicking off a four-game weekend series at 1 p.m. Pacific/2 p.m. Mountain on Friday.
MSUB extended its winning streak to six games with Thursday’s victories. “We knew they were going to bring it today, because their season is on the line, and they played good baseball,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “Our hitters really stuck to the process today. We had a lot of line-outs and hard-hit balls, and they finally started falling for us late there. Our pitchers all pounded the strike zone and executed the game plan. We tell our guys to enjoy these pressure situations, because that is what the playoffs are going to be like. Our guys made some big pitches when we needed it the most.”
The Cavaliers’ hopes for a playoff berth dwindled with the losses, as they moved to 15-32 overall and are now 13-25 in conference play. CU needs to win both games on Friday and have Saint Martin’s get swept in its four-game series against Western Oregon in order to force a tie for the fourth-place spot and final berth into the conference tournament.
Senior Jarrod Molnaa picked up his GNAC-leading seventh victory of the year in Game 1, and junior Sam Muskat tossed the final three frames to earn his third save of the season. “It was a pretty quality day from the staff overall,” said Muskat after the doubleheader. “Being part of the staff and knowing how hard the guys work, it is great to see when they come in and are able to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Game 1 – MSU Billings 5, Concordia 2
The Yellowjackets were held without a hit until the fourth inning, when Chris Arpan launched his ninth home run of the year over the fence in center to even the score at 1-1.
The Cavaliers had taken the lead in the top of the third, capitalizing on a leadoff walk issued to Trevor Huddleston and plating the run on a sacrifice fly by Liam Knowles.
Molnaa and CU starter Kaleb Jones locked into a back-and-forth pitcher’s duel, with the score remaining 1-1 after the top of the sixth inning. Jalen Garcia led off the frame with a double to the wall in center, before reigning GNAC and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association West Region Player of the Week Daniel Cipriano smoked a double over the head of Isaiah Hatch in left field. After a single by Arpan, Dillon rocketed his 14th home run of the year over the fence in left to open up a 5-1 edge for the ‘Jackets.
Muskat took the ball from Molnaa to start the seventh, and shook off a leadoff double by limiting the damage to a single run and striking out Damon Peters to end the inning. A single by Knowles and a hit batter created a jam in the top of the eighth, as the Cavaliers brought the tying run to the plate. Muskat buckled down however, striking out the next two batters before Landon Peterson gobbled up a pitch in the dirt and tagged out Knowles trying to score from third to keep the score at 5-2.
Despite a leadoff double by Dominic Enbody in the top of the ninth, Muskat once again got the job done with a pair of strikeouts and a lineout to end the game. “In that situation, you’re just trying to park the car,” said Muskat. “The team has done the work for you, and you’re just trying to get the W for the team.”
Enbody had three hits for CU and Arpan had a pair for the ‘Jackets, marking the only two players with multiple knocks in Game 1. Molnaa struck out three and walked three, while giving up just one run on two hits and throwing 88 pitches in six strong innings of work.
Game 2 – MSU Billings 6, Concordia 2 (7 Innings)
Garcia drilled his seventh home run of the year and the 21st of his career out to left field to give MSUB a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, and the ‘Jackets doubled their advantage on an RBI-single by Dillon in the third.
Knowles delivered his team’s biggest swing of the day in the top of the fourth however, blasting a two-run home run down the right-field line to even the score at 2-2. MSUB starter Dylan Barkley was perfect his first time through the Cavaliers’ lineup, before Peters led off the fourth with a double to set up Knowles’ two-run homer.
Hunter Roubidoux took the ball in the top of the fifth with one out and the go-ahead run on first, and got Peters to line out before winning a six-pitch battle against Knowles for an inning-ending strikeout.
CU starter Jake Roes meanwhile continued his stellar outing into the sixth inning, before a leadoff walk and a single by Andrew Schleusner created MSUB’s big inning. Tyler Detloff laid down a perfect bunt to move the runners, and advanced to second after a low throw carried into the stands beyond first base to give MSUB a 3-2 lead. That prompted CU to go to its star reliever Dylan Diaz, who entered the game with a 1.08 earned run average and zero home runs allowed on the season. Roche laid off ball one, before turning around on an inside pitch and opening up MSUB’s lead to 6-2 with his three-run homer. “He gave me two fastballs, and I was just trying to find a way to get (Wyatt) Setian up,” Roche commented on his approach on the home run. “We are gritty, and we were barreling up balls all game.”
Sterling Lay took the mound in the seventh, and retired all three Cavaliers he faced to seal the Yellowjackets’ sixth straight win without issue.
The ‘Jackets played clean defense with no errors in Game 2, and struck out just twice. Roes took the loss for CU, giving up five runs on eight hits with a pair of strikeouts and three walks in his five innings of work.
THE BUZZ: Muskat was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Day…MSUB is now 25-9 all-time against Concordia and is 11-3 in games played at Dehler Park…Peterson stole his second career base in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 1…MSUB’s home run total for the 2019 season reached 72 with the four hit on Thursday, and the ‘Jackets are now six home runs away from matching their own GNAC single-season record of 78 established in 2018.
NEXT UP: The 2019 regular season concludes on Friday, with a doubleheader scheduled for 1:05 p.m. Mountain time. A special Senior Day ceremony will begin airing live at 12:40 p.m. Mountain time, with the nine players graduating from MSUB’s program being honored. Live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available online through the MSUB Stretch Internet portal here.