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'Jackets' Baseball Splits Behind Cooper’s Second Straight Complete Game

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For the second straight weekend, Montana State University Billings senior right-hander Cody Cooper tossed a nine-inning complete game, helping the Yellowjackets earn a split with Great Northwest Athletic Conference leader Western Oregon University in a baseball doubleheader at Dehler Park Saturday.

Cooper pitched comfortably in an 18-2 rout by the ‘Jackets in the opener, before the Wolves won the series with an 8-3 triumph behind a complete game from Trey Smith in the nightcap.

“Offensively we were really good in Game 1, and guys didn’t give away at-bats at all,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “That gets going because Coop is out there pounding the strike zone, and getting us back in the dugout. He really helped us get our rhythm and tempo established.”

MSUB moved to 14-24 overall after Saturday’s split, and the ‘Jackets remained in fourth place in the GNAC standings at 12-16 in league play. The Wolves held onto their firm grip at the top of the league standings, at 19-9 overall and 18-6 in conference play.

Tanner Watson hit his third home run of the year and drove in a career-high five runs in Game 1, and Ryan Myers hit his team-leading eighth homer of the year in the opener. After setting a school record with four stolen bases in Game 2 Friday, senior Zach Robinson tied a school record Saturday by scoring four runs in Game 1.

Torreahno Sweet finished his big series by going 4-for-8 out of the cleanup spot for WOU on Saturday, and Jay Leverett had four of his team’s seven RBIs in Game 2.

Game 1 – MSU Billings 18, Western Oregon 2

The Yellowjackets posted their highest run total since May 1, 2016 at Western Oregon, and the highest hit total (19) since the school record mark of 22 hits on April 25, 2015 against Northwest Nazarene.

Twelve different Yellowjackets had at least one hit in the game, including all nine of MSUB’s starters and three different reserves off the bench.

Western Oregon took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on an RBI-single by Connor McCord, and WOU starter Craig Grubbe posted a shutdown inning and retired the side in order. It was the only time the game was ever in question however, as MSUB went on to score in each of the next seven innings, including multiple runs in all but the third frame.

Watson had an RBI-double in the second, a two-run home run in the fifth, and a two-run single in the sixth inning as he finished just a triple shy of the cycle.

Three straight singles started a five-run seventh inning in MSUB’s largest frame of the day, which featured a two-run single by Casey Merritt and a two-run home run to right-center off the bat of Myers.

While MSUB’s offense cruised, Cooper found a scintillating rhythm on the hill and retired eight hitters in-a-row into the fourth inning. He didn’t allow a second hit until a leadoff triple by Niles Nygaard in the top of the fifth, and the righty limited the damage to a single run by striking out Cody Dykstra to end the frame.

It was the last run of the game for the Wolves, who managed just five baserunners over the final four innings. Cooper earned his second straight victory, striking out six and walking just one while scattering seven hits and throwing 134 pitches. “Cody has found something in his rhythm, tempo, and delivery that is allowing him to fill up the strike zone,” Sutton said. “When he has four pitches for strikes, he is really tough on hitters. It’s really a testament to the work he has been putting in. He works tirelessly on his mechanics.”

MSUB took advantage of five walks and five hit batters by WOU’s pitching staff, which featured Jacob Fricke and Kody Kuhlman each throwing two innings in relief after Grubbe pitched the first four frames.

Game 2 – Western Oregon 8, MSU Billings 3 (7 Innings)

The Wolves held on for the series-clinching win, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and withstanding a game-tying rally by MSUB to pull away late. WOU plated two runs in the top of the first on an error and a bases-loaded walk by Tony Fonzo, but the ‘Jackets got out of the jam by turning a 1-4-3, inning-ending double play.

Jarod Paul was called upon to relieve starter Bryon Baker, after the senior was lifted with just one out in the first inning. Paul did his part on the hill, with two runs allowed on one hit in 2 2/3 innings while throwing 34 pitches. MSUB used six total pitchers in the game, but eight walks and a hit batter provided the Wolves with extra chances that they took advantage of.

WOU struck again with a single run in the second, but Matt Dillon helped end the threat by throwing out the speedy Forrest Garcia at third base on a steal attempt to eliminate the lead baserunner. Another inning-ending double play erased a one-out single by Sweet in the third, and the momentum carried into the dugout as the ‘Jackets struck for three runs to tie the score in the bottom of the inning.

Smith was within one strike of ending the third without issue, but Max Hartgraves bravely took a two-strike fastball that just missed the outside corner. The freshman lined the next pitch into left-center, kicking off a two-out rally that featured RBI-hits from Robinson, Garcia, and Myers.

Like they had done all series long however, the Wolves responded immediately and regained the lead with two runs in the top of the fourth. Leverett had the key hit, roping a one-out, two-run double inside the third-base bag and into the left-field corner.

Smith received an inning-ending double play from his defense to post a shutdown frame in the bottom of the fourth, and the left-hander didn’t allow another run the rest of the way. MSUB’s best chance to get back into the game came in the bottom of the seventh, when Michael Gahan led off with a single and Dillon was hit by a pitch. WOU had plated three more runs and held an 8-3 lead however, and Smith again turned to his defense for help in finishing the game.

Dykstra made a stellar, diving catch on a high popup down the right-field foul line, skidding head-first into the bullpen mound among a crowd of relief pitchers to snag the second out of the seventh inning. The big play foiled any hope of a late rally, and Garcia flew out to his similarly-named outfield counterpart in center to end the game.

Smith had four strikeouts and four walks, allowing three runs on just five hits and throwing 113 pitches in the complete game.

Sam Muskat tossed 2 1/3 innings out of the pen and struck out a pair of batters while giving up two runs on three hits. Myers finished 1-for-3 in the game, narrowly missing his second home run of the day as Garcia tracked down his towering fly ball at the wall in straightaway center field in the second. “Ryan had an outstanding day,” Sutton said. “He puts pressure on the other team every time he comes up to the plate, and our guys have a lot of trust in him when he gets up.”

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