Jackets Split Final Home Games with NNU - KULR8.com | News, Weather & Sports in Billings, Montana

Jackets Split Final Home Games with NNU

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BILLINGS, Mont. – In the 2015 home regular season finale, Tanner Johnson threw 129 pitches to record a three-hit shutout in a big 16-0 Game 1 win for the Montana State University Billings baseball team, but visiting Northwest Nazarene salvaged a 5-4 win in Game 2 to avoid being swept Saturday evening at Dehler Park.

Johnson struck out 10 and walked just three in the nine-inning shutout, his first complete game of the season. “Tanner was awesome,” commented MSUB head coach Rob Bishop. “He was in a groove throwing strikes and had a lot of movement on his pitches, and he took the pressure off our bullpen and our whole team.”

The ‘Jackets had 22 hits in Game 1, scoring four times each in the third, seventh, and eighth innings in the rout of the Crusaders.

In the second game, a big grand slam by Andrew Helmstadter of NNU made the score 5-1 and proved to be enough to help the Crusaders hold on for the victory.

The Yellowjackets put the tying run on base in the bottom of the seventh, but reliever Andrew Groves struck out Brody Miller and Kevin Toon looking in back-to-back at bats to end the game.

“I felt like we swung the bats well in both games today,” Bishop said. “We competed in Game 2 and had a couple big hits, and got into a position where the tying and go-ahead run was at the plate. Their pitcher made some pitches, and it was a good game.”

With the split MSUB moved to 23-21 overall on the season and 18-10 in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play. The Yellowjackets are now tied for first place with Western Oregon, but the Wolves hold the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series over MSUB 5-3.

WOU plays host to NNU next weekend, while the Yellowjackets visit Saint Martin's in the final four games of the regular season. The team that wins the regular season title will earn hosting privileges for the GNAC Championships, which are scheduled for May 7-8. WOU has won 13 straight GNAC regular season titles.

Remaining in third place in the GNAC standings, Northwest Nazarene moved to 26-23 overall on the season and an even 14-14 in conference play. After losing the first seven games of the season series to MSUB, NNU avoided the season sweep by collecting the one-run victory in the finale.

Game 1 – MSU Billings 16, Northwest Nazarene 0

After MSUB won a 3-0 pitcher's duel the last time Johnson and NNU starter Blake Mitchell met, the third game of this week's series appeared to be headed in that direction as each starter put up zeroes in the first two innings.

The fireworks started for the Yellowjackets in the third however, as Trevor Nix blasted a two-run double to left and Luke Reinschmidt dropped a two-run single into center to make it 4-0.

Nix made it 5-0 with a long solo home run to left field in the bottom of the fifth, and his two-run single in the sixth was part of a three-run inning as the Yellowjackets began to pull away.

The Crusaders meanwhile struggled to gain any momentum against Johnson, as he retired 13 of 15 batters from the second through sixth innings. Only once did the leadoff batter in an inning reach base against Johnson, and it came in the seventh inning when a ground ball by Kyle Thomson was mishandled.

The junior right-hander pitched around the hiccup, with a pop up, a strikeout and a foul out to end the inning.

Adding on in the bottom of the seventh, MSUB put the game out of reach with four more runs. Conner Holbrook was finally rewarded with an RBI-single to right field, after he had lined out hard to NNU right fielder Tim Jones in his first three times to the plate. Miller plated one with a single through the left side, Blake Loran had an RBI on a groundout, and Nix drove in his sixth run of the game with an infield hit.

Despite a one-out double by Tyler Davis in the eighth, Johnson had just a nine-pitch inning as his pitch count crept towards 120.

Stepping to the plate a triple shy of the cycle, Nix ripped a double into left center for his fifth hit of the game in the bottom of the eighth. The swing of the bat came after MSUB had added four more runs, two of which came on a double to left center by Myles Berkram.

With the untouchable lead in hand, Johnson took the ball in the ninth and battled to retire the side and complete the three-hit masterpiece. He was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Day for his effort.

Nix was 5-for-6 with six RBIs, while Miller and Corey Morris each had three hits for the ‘Jackets.

Thomson was the lone Crusader to figure out Johnson, as he went 2-for-3 and reached base three times.

CLOSE CALL: Leading off the top of the sixth inning, Davis lifted a high drive into left field that appeared to be headed over the wall. It stopped carrying however, and Merritt reached up to snag it as he crashed into the wall and Johnson's shutout was kept intact.

Game 2 – Northwest Nazarene 5, MSU Billings 4 (7 Innings)

The five run fifth inning proved to be just enough to supply NNU with the victory, as the Yellowjackets' rally came up one run short in the bottom of the seventh.

Trailing 5-3 in the final inning, Kyle Durbin shot the gap in right center for a leadoff double and was plated on an RBI-single into right by Merritt. After Berkram was retired on a fielder's choice, Groves entered to face Miller and struck out the final two batters to seal the victory.

MSUB starter Cody Cooper and NNU starter Ross Clevinger each retired the side in order in the first, and put up zeroes through the first three innings. The first breakthrough came in the fourth inning, when Reinschmidt lined a hit into right center and screamed around the bases to third with a triple that scored Kevin Toon.

The 1-0 edge didn't last long however, as Kaleb DeHaas led off with a single in the top of the fifth and Tucker Campbell drove him in two batters later with a single to tie the score at 1-1. Leadoff batter Josh Hatfield was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and after working the count to 2-1 Helmstadter hit the game-winning grand slam out of the park in left.

The ‘Jackets responded with an RBI-double by Miller in the bottom of the inning, and loaded the bases for Nix with two outs. On an 0-1 pitch, the senior hit a deep drive into right center that was caught on the warning track. Berkram came around to score, but Toon was doubled off at first base to end the inning with the score at 5-3.

After allowing a base hit to the first batter he faced, MSUB freshman Adam Cox did not allow another hit as he threw the final 2 1/3 innings and struck out a pair.

NNU outhit MSUB 8-5 in Game 2, and Groves earned the save for his big appearance late. Colton Loomis also threw two key innings in relief of Clevinger, who lasted 4 1/3 and struck out three while walking four and allowing three runs on two hits.

THE BUZZ: The 16-0 win tied the largest margin of victory in MSUB history, incredibly matching a 16-0 shutout of NNU on the road in the 2013 season in which Yellowjacket starter Samuel Paterson pitched a three-hit, seven-inning shutout…the 16 runs were the second most in a single game this season by the ‘Jackets, who tied a program record for runs in a 21-8 win over Central Washington two weeks ago…the Yellowjackets left 14 runners on base on the day while NNU left 13 including eight in Game 1.

SENIOR SALUTE: Before the game, the nine graduating seniors for the Yellowjackets were presented with plaques commemorating their careers at MSUB. Bret Bitow, Jake Campeau, Holbrook, Nix, Loran, Lucas Blehm, Jake Mills, Miller, and Muller were each accompanied by members of their families on the field before the games.

NEXT UP: MSUB closes the regular season with a pivotal four-game road series at Saint Martin's next weekend. Having already clinched a GNAC Championships berth, the Yellowjackets will need to win one more game than Western Oregon does next week in order to earn hosting privileges.