(MSU Billings release)
LA JOLLA, Calif. – The best season in Montana State University Billings baseball history ended Friday at Triton Ballpark, with a 7-5 loss to No. 10 University of California San Diego at the 2019 NCAA D2 West Region Championships.
The Yellowjackets tied the school record for wins in a year, finishing 33-20, and advanced to the regional playoffs for the first time in program history. “These guys have been a resilient group all year,” said third-year head coach Aaron Sutton, who was named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Coach of the Year for the second straight season this spring. “We started this year 0-11, so to be where we are now, on ground where we have never been as a program, is special and it is a testament to these guys.”
A seven-run sixth inning by the Triton offense proved to be the difference Friday afternoon, in a game that the ‘Jackets dominated outside of the defining inning. MSUB led 4-0 after five innings of play, but couldn’t recover after UCSD’s lengthy rally.
Senior Steen Fredrickson made the final start of his four-year career, throwing five-plus innings with four strikeouts, three walks, and six runs allowed on six hits. He finished his career No. 2 in MSUB history with 19 victories, one shy of Brady Muller’s school record of 20. He also finished with 209 career strikeouts, which was third-most in MSUB history and seventh-most in GNAC history. “Steen really had it going early,” Sutton commented on the senior allowing just two hits over his first five shutout frames. “They had the one big inning, but outside of that I thought we beat them in every facet of the game.”
In his final at-bat of the season, GNAC Player of the Year Daniel Cipriano hit his 18th home run to break the MSUB single-season record and tie the GNAC mark. Cipriano was 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored Friday, and he also broke the MSUB single-season record for runs scored as he upped his total to 59 on the year. Cipriano also officially completed the second triple crown in GNAC history, ending the year atop the league in batting average (.405), home runs (18), and RBIs (52).
Division II Conference Commissioners Association West Region Pitcher of the Year Brandon Weed earned his 10th win of the year, but had to endure his most trying outing of the season in order to do so. The Yellowjackets were the first team this season to plate more than three runs off of the right-hander, who struck out five and walked two while giving up five runs on 10 hits and throwing 113 pitches. Jonah Dipoto earned his second save of the season, sending the Tritons (36-12) into a best-of-three series for the regional title against Point Loma Nazarene University with two perfect innings of relief.
The Yellowjackets broke through in the second inning, loading the bases with one out after a soft single by Ryan Roche. Wyatt Setian followed with a slow roller that crept into left field, and Tyler Detloff dove into home head first to just beat the throw from Alex Athanacio to make it a 2-0 lead.
Detloff led off the fourth with a double to the wall in right, and Setian followed with a sharp line drive to center to make the score 3-0. The sophomore shortstop finished the game 2-for-5 with three RBIs, ending the year with a team-leading 71 base hits.
Matt Dillon’s final career RBI came in the top of the fifth, when he punched a base hit to center that scored Daniel Cipriano and upped the spread to four runs.
The Tritons made their move in the bottom of the sixth inning, as six straight hitters reached base to even the score at 4-4 and drive Fredrickson from the game. Athanacio came inches away from a grand slam, settling for a two-run double that caromed off the top of the wall in left field to tie the game.
Jared Winslow came on and struck out the first two men he faced, but R.J. Prince drew a bases-loaded walk to give UCSD its first lead of the day at 5-4. Winslow managed to strike out California Collegiate Athletic Association Player of the Year Shay Whitcomb, but not before a pair of wild pitches plated two more runs and gave the Tritons a 7-4 advantage.
Cipriano’s record-breaking home run came with one out and the bases empty in the top of the seventh, as he smashed a pitch from Weed well over the fence in left field. It was just the second home run Weed has allowed all season, and just the fourth in his collegiate career including two years at Southwestern Community College.
Winslow’s final career appearance featured three strikeouts in his inning of work, before he handed the ball off to Dylan Barkley. The left-hander gave up just one walk and one hit, while striking out three over the final two innings of the game. “If you would have told me five years ago that we would be here at a regional, I would have pinched myself,” said Winslow, who came into the program as a true freshman in the fall of 2014. “It has been a ride I can’t explain, and it has been the time of my life.”
No Triton had more than a single hit on the afternoon, while Blake Baumgartner and Athanacio each had a pair of RBIs.
“I am extremely proud of this group, and there is a bright future for these guys,” said Sutton. “These guys and especially these fifth-year seniors, give us everything they’ve got every single day. They should hold their heads very high.”
“This season kind of represents my entire career here,” said fifth-year senior catcher Landon Peterson. “We start off 0-11, and we really had to focus on each other and take care of each other. We had to rely on the great character that we have on this team. I couldn’t ask for a better way to go out, and I love these guys.”
THE BUZZ: Setian was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 0-1 all-time against UC San Diego…MSUB’s 53 games played were the most in school history in a single season, topping the mark of 52 games played in the 2008, 2009, and 2017 seasons…Setian’s 53 games played and started were an MSUB single-season record.