MSU Billings splits with Western Oregon, maintains GNAC lead

(Editor’s note: MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – The top-two teams in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference split a baseball doubleheader Friday at Dehler Park, with second-place Western Oregon taking Game 1 12-9 and conference-leading Montana State University Billings rallying to win the nightcap 9-7.

The Yellowjackets moved to 18-16 overall, and are now 18-8 in conference play to maintain the top spot in the standings. Western Oregon meanwhile moved to 17-9 overall, and the Wolves are behind the ‘Jackets at 14-9 in league play. “It wasn’t really clean baseball by either side, but it was a dog fight today,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton on a day where the teams combined for eight defensive errors, many of which were costly. “That’s what we expect going into it every time we play those guys. We played pretty well at the end in Game 1, and in Game 2 offensively we got it going a little bit. Any time you get extra outs it is tough on the pitching staff, and when you have two good offenses going like this extra outs are big time.”

Matt Dillon hit his GNAC-leading 11th home run of the year in Game 2, after Wyatt Setian crushed his seventh of the season in Game 1.

Connor McCord had a career-high nine strikeouts in six innings pitched in Game 1, before clubbing a pair of home runs for the Wolves in the nightcap. Griffey Halle had a grand slam for his team-leading seventh homer of the year in Game 1, and Jared McDonald and Collin Runge each also homered for WOU in the doubleheader. GNAC-leading hitter Derek Maiben went 5-for-10 on the day to lift his batting average to .458 on the year.

“They are a great ball club, and we know every time they come out it is going to be a dog fight,” junior first baseman Daniel Cipriano said after the doubleheader. “We didn’t play our best ball in Game 1, but we came back and took Game 2. We are in a good position going into tomorrow.”

Game 1 – Western Oregon 12, MSU Billings 9, 10 Inn

The Wolves scored three runs in the top of the 10th inning, taking advantage of a pair of walks in the frame after Runge led off with a double to right. The ‘Jackets couldn’t respond in the bottom of the frame, and Cam Walker finished his second inning of work to record the victory.

It was a wild game from the start, with the ‘Jackets taking the lead on a pair of runs in the first inning. McDonald’s sixth long ball of the year made it a 2-1 game in the top of the second, but Setian responded with his seventh of the season in the bottom of the inning to help MSUB regain a two-run cushion.

McCord and MSUB starting pitcher Steen Fredrickson gained some momentum after that, each posting zeroes over the next two innings of work.

The Wolves did damage in the top of the fifth, when Hunter Johnson led off with a double to center and Patrick Chung brought him home with a two-out double to right. After McDonald was hit by a pitch, Halle crushed a 1-0 pitch off the scoreboard beyond the right-field fence to make it a 6-3 ballgame.

Fredrickson shook it off and put up another zero in the sixth inning, and the ‘Jackets took advantage of WOU mistakes in the bottom of the inning to tie the game. With the bases loaded and two outs, Johnson kicked a soft ground ball at first and threw it away to allow a pair of runs to score. Chung then let a hard grounder past him that allowed the tying run cross the plate to make it a 6-6 game.

A two-run triple by Derek Maiben in the seventh came after an error by the ‘Jackets, and the Wolves got back in front 8-6. The ‘Jackets scored one in the bottom of the seventh on a double play, but WOU got it right back on a throwing error on the infield that made it 9-7.

The biggest hit of the day to that point came off of Dillon’s bat in the bottom of the ninth, as he rolled a one-out, two-run single into center field to tie the score at 9-9. But the Wolves had the final say with their three-run 10th, and handed MSUB its second straight defeat.

“It was an up-and-down game, and was really emotional, but it has been our mentality whether we win or lose that we are 0-0 and we get ready to go and get the next game,” Sutton said regarding the tough loss in the opener.

Fredrickson struck out five and walked two, while giving up six runs on seven hits in six innings of work. Sam Muskat gave up three unearned runs in two solid innings of work, and Sterling Lay threw the final two innings while giving up three runs on four hits.

Wryland McKnight bridged the gap to Walker, with three strikeouts and just two hits allowed over his two innings of relief for WOU. Even with 21 runs being scored, there were chances for more by both teams as WOU stranded 10 runners and MSUB left eight on base.

Game 2 – MSU Billings 9, Western Oregon 7 (7 Innings)

A six-run fourth inning proved to be the difference in Game 2, and MSUB withstood WOU’s furious comeback effort to salvage a split on the day.

Cipriano got the big inning started with a leadoff walk, but the Wolves had a prime chance to get out of trouble as Dillon rolled one back to starting pitcher Grant Fisher. His throw to second was off line however, and instead of a potential double play both Yellowjacket runners were safe. MSUB wound up sending 11 men to the plate and scoring six times to open up a 7-1 lead. Cipriano rifled a two-run double into the left-field corner his second time up in the inning, and the ‘Jackets never trailed after that.

“We take the mindset of going into every game 0-0, so we were able to reset and come out in Game 2,” Cipriano said after his team was able to shake off the extra-inning loss in the opener. “It is about getting to the next guy and each person getting the job done. We were able to do that in the big inning, and that really helped us.”

Runge scored the first run all the way from second in the top of the first inning, when a pickoff attempt by MSUB starter Dylan Barkley wound up in center field and no one tracked it down. Dillon’s 11th homer of the year was a towering solo shot to left field that evened the score in the bottom of the second inning.

The Wolves were quick to respond after MSUB’s big inning, as Runge and McCord each hit two-run homers to push WOU back into it down 7-5. A two-out walk to Halle brought the tying run to the plate, but Hunter Roubidoux came into the game and got Maiben to fly out to right and end the inning.

In one of the most clutch at-bats of the day, junior Tyler Detloff came off the bench and ripped a pinch-hit, two-run double to right-center in the bottom of the fifth that helped MSUB regain a four-run cushion. Blayze Arcano had an RBI-single in the sixth and McCord homered off the scoreboard in the seventh, but that was all the Wolves could manage as Roubidoux finished the game to earn his second save of the year.

Barkley collected his fourth win of the season, tossing 73 pitches and getting through 4 2/3 innings of work.

Fisher took the loss for WOU, giving up seven runs on four hits while matching his season high with seven strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings. Christian Hammerich and Koty Fallon combined to throw the final 2 1/3 frames out of the bullpen, and gave up just two total hits.

THE BUZZ: Roubidoux was tabbed the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Day…MSUB is now 25-74 all-time against WOU and is 11-30 in games played in Billings…Fredrickson moved up to No. 10 in GNAC history with 175 career strikeouts…Jalen Garcia stole his 45th career base in Game 2, breaking a tie with Jamie Nilsen of Central Washington (2005-08) for No. 5 on the GNAC all-time list…the home run was the 15th of Dillon’s career as he remained No. 6 on the MSUB all-time list…his 11 home runs this season are tied for the fourth-most in MSUB single-season history…Setian’s homer was the 11th of his career, as he moved into a tie for the No. 10 spot in MSUB history…freshman Zander Petrich made his MSUB debut in Game 2 on Friday.

NEXT UP: The series concludes on Saturday with another doubleheader slated to begin at 1 p.m. Live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available through the MSUB Stretch Internet portal online.

Scott Breen

Scott Breen

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