(COURTESY: MSUB Athletics)
PORTLAND, Ore. – Fifth-year senior battery Jared Winslow and Landon Peterson leapt into each other’s arms in front of the mound at Porter Park Friday afternoon, kicking off a dogpile as Montana State University Billings won the 2019 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships title with an 8-5 triumph over Saint Martin’s University.
The victory helped MSUB clinch its first-ever berth into the 2019 NCAA Division II West Region Championships, which will begin next week in California. “I couldn’t have asked to do it with a better group of guys,” said Peterson, who began his MSUB career as a true freshman in the spring of 2015. “We have fallen short in the past in the tournament, but this year we have a bunch of gritty guys who took it one game at a time. We are ready to go to regionals, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
The Yellowjackets (33-18) won their first-ever GNAC tournament title in historic fashion, tying the school record for wins in a season and breaking the record for most consecutive wins with 11 in-a-row. After starting the year 0-11, MSUB has gone 33-7 since to claim its fourth conference title in the last five years. “This means a lot, and coming off our loss last year it left a sour taste in a lot of the returners’ mouths,” said Matt Dillon, another fifth-year senior and a Billings native. “Winning the regular season is great to get you on the right foot for the postseason, but this one just means so much more.”
GNAC Coach of the Year Aaron Sutton was doused with a bucket of water after piloting the Yellowjackets to a 3-0 performance at the GNAC Championships. “This is just a testament to our guys,” said Sutton. “It is a special group of guys, and now we get to go represent our conference and school at the regional level. Those seniors have put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this program, and they have left their stamp on the team and on the conference. I couldn’t be more proud of those guys, and they will be lifelong friends for me.”
MSUB will receive an automatic berth in the regional championships, and will find out its opponent on Sunday evening when the selection show airs at 8 p.m. Mountain time.
Saint Martin’s finished its 2019 season with a record of 21-32, and advanced to the tournament title game for the first time in school history.
Playing in his hometown, Chris Arpan launched a three-run home run to right-center field in the top of the first inning, giving the Yellowjackets a lead that they never relinquished. SMU made it a close game late with a four-run bottom of the eighth to cut the deficit to 7-5, but MSUB Winslow finished the game with a perfect ninth to spur the celebration on the field. “We have been through a lot of ups, and this is the top,” said Winslow as he held the championship trophy after the game. “We have worked hard five years for this, and this is one we will always remember for the rest of our lives.”
Senior Conner Linebarger was named the GNAC Championships Most Valuable Player, as he went 3-for-4 with an RBI-triple after homering in each of MSUB’s first two games the last two days. With Arpan’s home run in the first, the ‘Jackets extended their current streak of games with a home run to 11, which is three away from the GNAC record. It was also Arpan’s 10th home run of the year, making the 2019 Yellowjackets the first team in GNAC history to have four different players reach double figures in home runs in a single year.
MSUB got 6 2/3 stellar innings from left-hander Dylan Barkley, who picked up his GNAC-leading seventh win of the year. The redshirt freshman allowed one unearned run on six hits, with a strikeout and no walks issued.
Ryan Dorney shook off the early trouble, and struck out nine while walking just one and giving up five runs on five hits in six innings pitched for SMU.
It was all zeroes after the first inning, until Linebarger ripped an RBI-triple to right and scored on an ensuing dropped pop fly to right to make it a 5-0 game. SMU got a run back in the bottom of the seventh on a fielding miscue by MSUB, but Ryan Roche extended the lead to 7-1 with a bases-loaded single in the top of the eighth that scored two.
SMU’s final chance at a comeback came in the eighth, when Kahi Hirano laced a pinch-hit single up the middle to score Ryne Oshiro. Senior Austin Feist followed with his second three-run home run of the tournament, cutting it to a two-run ballgame.
Jalen Garcia led off the top of the ninth with a crisp line drive to center, and an ensuing double by Daniel Cipriano gave MSUB a three run cushion. After striking out the first two men he faced in the bottom of the ninth, Winslow got Hirano to loft a fly ball to left field where Tyler Detloff made the catch to end the game and the tournament.
The teams had 10 hits apiece, with MSUB stranding eight baserunners and the Saints leaving six aboard. Colton Peha went 3-for-4 to lead SMU at the plate in its final game of the 2019 campaign.
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