Jackets Five Game Winning Streak Snapped in Series Split with NN - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Jackets Five Game Winning Streak Snapped in Series Split with NNU

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For the second straight day, the Montana State University Billings baseball team put the tying run on third base with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, but the rally came up just short on Saturday as the Yellowjackets dropped a Great Northwest Athletic Conference doubleheader to Northwest Nazarene University.

Freshman Andrew Schleusner came close to beating out a slow grounder with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in Game 2, but the throw beat him by a step and the Crusaders held on to win 7-6 thanks to three runs in the top of the ninth. NNU ran away with Game 1, scoring six runs in the first and cruising to a 12-7 victory.

“Today NNU played good baseball, and we battled all day long and kept competing,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “Those are the types of games you want to be a part of, and you want to put yourselves in a position to win a ballgame. That’s all you can do, and it didn’t go our way today.”

MSUB dropped to 10-15 overall on the season and is now 8-7 in conference play after the losses Saturday. The Crusaders reclaimed second place in the GNAC standings at 10-6 in league play, and they improved to 11-15 overall.

Billy King, the GNAC home runs leader with 10, hit three long balls in the doubleheader including a two-run shot in the ninth inning of Game 2 that proved to be the game-winner.

Casey Merritt went 4-for-9 with three runs and two RBIs to pace the Yellowjackets at the plate. “From an offensive standpoint, Casey had another great day for us,” said Sutton. “Tanner Watson really provided a spark for us offensively, and it’s good to see him start feeling comfortable at the plate. I also thought Andrew did a nice job behind the plate handling both games in a doubleheader, and it’s a lot to ask for a younger guy to do that.”

Game 1 – Northwest Nazarene 12, MSU Billings 7

After losing Game 2 in dramatic fashion on Friday, NNU made a statement with three home runs in the top of the first inning to take a 6-0 advantage. King started his big day with a two-run shot in the first, and Tim Jones and Jarod Gonzales also homered in the inning to set the tone.

The Crusaders tacked on with runs in the second, third, and fourth innings, and led 10-1 by the bottom of the sixth.

The ‘Jackets came on strong late with four runs in the bottom of the ninth, but it was too little too late as NNU held on for the Game 1 victory. MSUB didn’t go without chances in the game, stranding 15 baserunners as the big hit eluded the Yellowjackets in the opener.

MSUB starter Matt Hape gritted out six innings despite the big first frame by NNU, and struck out six while walking just one and tossing 121 pitches. Junior Tristan Shockley was solid in three relief innings, striking out three and walking one while giving up two runs on four hits.

Adam Paulson kept the Yellowjackets at bay until the bottom of the third, when Adam Cox lifted a sacrifice fly into the right-field corner for the first run of the game off NNU’s starter. MSUB failed to string more than two hits together off the righty however, as Paulson struck out five and walked two while scattering seven hits and three runs in 6 1/3 innings to earn the win.

Merritt had his first RBI of the day with a two-out single up the middle in the bottom of the sixth, but NNU plated two runs in the top of the seventh to extend its lead to 12-2. A single, two walks, and an error loaded the bases for MSUB in the bottom of the ninth, but NNU shortstop Casey Cornwell turned a sharp ground ball into a momentum-stopping double play and essentially ended the comeback threat.

Cox drove in two more with a two-out double to right, but reliever Koby Griffin fought through the rally to shut the door and end the game.

Gonzalez was 4-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs scored, and fell just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. King and Spencer Pollock each had three hits in the game for the Crusaders, who left eight runners on base and put the leadoff man on in six of the first seven innings.

Game 2 – Northwest Nazarene 7, MSU Billings 6 (9 Innings)

Schleusner worked the count full against NNU reliever Brady Baker, pushing the game to the limit before the Crusaders held on for the one-run victory. Merritt had driven in Robinson with an RBI-double, and come around to score on a base hit by Tanner Watson to get the game back to 7-6. Watson’s clutch swing came on the 12th pitch of a battle against Baker, as he fouled off seven pitches before finding the outfield grass.

An ensuing single by Max Hartgraves and hit batsmen by Baker pushed the bases full, but MSUB couldn’t find a walk-off hit for the third day in-a-row. The ‘Jackets won Game 2 Friday in walk-off fashion, after sealing a series win over Concordia last Sunday when they were last in action, with a walk-off hit in the bottom of the seventh.

King homered twice in the game, with a solo shot in the fifth before his two-run long ball off the foul pole in right field in the ninth. A three-run home run by Andrew Helmstadter in the top of the first supplied the early lead, as the duo combined to drive in six of the seven runs in the game.

MSUB starter Bryon Baker contributed six strong innings, with five strikeouts and four runs allowed on four hits and six walks. Sophomore Steen Fredrickson retired the first six batters he faced in relief, and struck out three while giving up three hits over the final three frames.

While the Crusaders’ scoring came in bunches with three in the first and three in the ninth, the Yellowjackets chipped away and plated a single run in four of the first five innings. Cox had an RBI-groundout in the first, Schleusner brought home Jalen Garcia on a sacrifice bunt in the second, and Watson doubled home Cox into the right-field corner in the third.

Garcia helped pull the game even again at 4-4 with a hustle-double on a ground ball into center field that scored Watson in the fifth.

NNU’s Casey Sheehan had perhaps the defensive play of the day, diving into the gap in right center to steal a leadoff double from Caje Golden in the bottom of the sixth inning. Sheehan repaid the ‘Jackets for a similar play made by Merritt on fully-extended diving catch on his own fly ball in the top of the third. NNU’s centerfielder went on to break the tie with an RBI-single in the top of the ninth, before King’s blast provided the necessary insurance runs.

Making his third appearance of the series, NNU’s Baker earned the win by striking out four and walking one with two runs allowed on three hits in five innings of relief.

Watson finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs, and Garcia and Merritt each had two hits in Game 2.

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