MSUB Baseball Gets Dramatic Sweep of Northwest Nazarene - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

MSUB Baseball Gets Dramatic Sweep of Northwest Nazarene

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With the Montana State University Billings baseball team trailing 11-10 and down to its final out in the bottom of the seventh inning, senior Casey Merritt delivered a two-run, walk-off triple to seal a doubleheader sweep of Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponent Northwest Nazarene University Friday at Dehler Park.

After winning Game 1 7-5, the Yellowjackets trailed by as much as 8-1 before rallying to pull within a single run in the bottom of the seventh. Senior Zach Robinson, who finished the day 6-for-8 with five RBIs and six runs scored, was intentionally walked to put the winning run on first and Merritt took care of the rest.

The senior four-year veteran turned around on a 2-1 pitch from NNU’s Nick Bland, smoking the ball into the right-field corner and plating Robinson all the way from first without a play at the plate. “That was a big situation, but I had a lot of confidence in myself and in our team,” said Merritt. “I took a ball inside, and he came back with that very same pitch. I managed to get out front and get the barrel on it, and as soon as I saw that fair down the line I knew Zach was scoring from first.”

Robinson’s two-run single in the bottom of the eighth inning was the game-winning hit in the opener, as he backed an eight-strikeout performance by Cody Cooper and two scoreless relief innings by Tanner Watson on the mound.

MSUB surpassed NNU for second place in the GNAC standings with the sweep, moving to 10-13 overall and 8-5 in league play. The Crusaders have lost four in-a-row, and are now 10-14 overall and 8-6 in GNAC play. “Those guys are our glue, and they’ve been doing it for us all season long,” Sutton commented on Merritt and Robinson. “Every time they’re in a position to help us win a game, we feel good about our chances.”

Game 1 – MSU Billings 7, Northwest Nazarene 5

Ending in similarly-dramatic fashion to Game 2, the Yellowjackets capped the Game 1 victory with a thrilling defensive play by right-fielder Jalen Garcia. With two outs and the tying run at the plate in the top of the ninth, NNU’s Billy King drilled a sinking fly ball deep towards the wall. Garcia tracked backwards, leapt and crashed into the fence, and held on for the catch to end the game.

The defensive play of the day came after Robinson scored Andrew Schleusner and Alec Leighton in the bottom of the eighth to give the ‘Jackets the lead. Conner Linebarger also had a huge swing of the bath in the opener, clearing the bases in the fifth with a two-out, three-run double in the top of the fifth to give MSUB a 5-2 advantage.

The Crusaders fought back relentlessly however, using a two-run home run from ninth-place hitter Casey Cornwell to pull even at 5-5 in the top of the sixth. Cooper shook off the hit, retiring the final four hitters he faced and completing the seventh inning for his longest outing of the season. The senior right-hander took the no-decision, finishing with eight strikeouts and a season-low two walks, with five runs allowed on seven hits and 123 pitches thrown.

Watson allowed just one baserunner over the final two innings, striking out one and walking none to earn the victory.

For NNU, Ross Clevenger had six strikeouts and a pair of walks, allowing five runs on seven hits in six innings in the start.

Each team scored in the first inning, with NNU’s Casey Sheehan scoring from third on a wild pitch and the ‘Jackets tying the game with an early error by the ‘Saders. Ryan Myers had his first RBI of the day with a base hit in the bottom of the third inning, but NNU once again responded as Kyle Redford led off the top of the fourth with a solo home run to make it 2-2.

Linebarger started a 5-4-3 double play to help Cooper limit the damage in the inning, and then delivered his biggest hit of the day with the three-run double in the fifth.

NNU relied on the bottom of its order in the game, as the team’s 1-through-5 hitters went 0-for-20 with six strikeouts at the plate. Robinson and Garcia were the two Yellowjackets with multiple hits in the opener, and MSUB won despite leaving eight runners on base.

Game 2 – MSU Billings 12, Northwest Nazarene 11 (7 Innings)

Merritt’s heroics were preceded by several key plays by the Yellowjackets, none more important than a pinch-hit, solo home run by Watson to cut the deficit to 11-10 earlier in the seventh inning. Jarod Paul, who was the second straight left-handed pinch hitter used by Sutton against NNU’s right-handed relief corps, was hit by a pitch in the next at bat to put the tying run on base.

Robinson and Merritt saved their best for last, ending the day with an improbable comeback win.

A seven-run third inning made the outlook bleak for MSUB, as King and Brett Nielsen each had two-run home runs and Spencer Pollock plated two more with a double in the inning. A stellar defensive play prevented NNU from scoring even more in the frame, as reliever Garrett Baldry got Helmstadter to ground into a double play to Linebarger with one out and the bases loaded.

MSUB responded immediately with a five-run third, after Linebarger led off with a double and Caje Golden hit his team-leading fifth home run of the season. Stepping to the plate with one on and one out, Myers hit a monstrous two-run home run over the hitter’s eye in straightaway center field, clearing a 30-foot wall that stands 410 feet from home plate.

Another double from Pollock and an RBI-groundout by Jarod Gonzales helped pad NNU’s lead, as the Crusaders pulled back ahead 10-6 with two runs in the fourth.

NNU starter Jaramy Jacobs battled his way through the fifth inning, exiting after striking out three and walking none while allowing eight runs on nine hits and throwing 96 pitches. Pollock’s third RBI-double of the game in the top of the sixth gave NNU a five-run advantage, but it was the final run of the afternoon for the Crusaders.

After Linebarger was hit by a pitch and Golden singled up the middle, Robinson drove his first-career home run over the left-field fence to get his team back within two runs.

Steen Fredrickson battled through a pair of baserunners in the top of the seventh, stranding runners on second and third and putting up a zero to help his team stay at a manageable deficit. Freshman Josh Harrington was also stellar out of the bullpen, allowing just one run on two hits with two strikeouts and three walks in 2 2/3 innings of relief.

Pollock and Sheehan each had three hits in the nightcap, while each of the top-four hitters in MSUB’s lineup had a hit and an RBI in the game.

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