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MSU Billings leaves tying run at plate in season opener

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – Bringing the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning on Thursday afternoon at Suplizio Field, the Montana State University Billings baseball team came up just short in a season-opening 7-5 loss against New Mexico Highlands University at the Courtyard by Marriott Leadoff Weekend.

 

Daniel Cipriano hit his second double of the game and Tanner Cantwell drove him in with two outs in the ninth, but NMHU’s John Slape came on from the bullpen to retire the final hitter and save the game for the Cowboys. “I was proud of our guys for battling,” said MSUB head coach Derek Waddoups. “We showed some early season defensive miscues, but we didn’t give up and took our best at-bats late.”

 

NMHU benefitted from five Yellowjacket errors in the game, as only three of the team’s seven runs scored were earned. Will Riley and Andrew Schleusner each hit their first home run of the season for the ‘Jackets, who scored their five runs on eight hits – six of which went for extra bases. “Will got us on the board with the home run, and he took really good at bats,” said Waddoups. “Overall our offensive approach was good.”

 

Connor Redmond made his MSUB debut on the mound, allowing four runs on five hits with eight strikeouts and four walks in four innings of work. Senior left-hander Sterling Lay was saddled with a tough loss, despite the fact that all three runs he allowed went down as unearned. Lay helped keep the Yellowjackets in the game until the final out, scattering four hits with one strikeout and a pair of walks over his four strong innings of relief. “I was proud of Sterling,” Waddoups said. “He pitched through defensive miscues, he kept throwing strikes, and he kept giving us a chance. He kept his composure, and did a good job of competing for us. I was proud of his efforts.”

 

The Cowboys (1-0) struck first on an RBI-double from Ashton Roy and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jesus Chavez in the bottom of the third inning. The two runs scored during the frame rewarded starter Jadrian Martinez for retiring nine consecutive batters to start the game.

 

Riley led off the top of the fourth with the solo home run, and Cipriano promptly followed with his first double of the game as the ‘Jacket offense came to life. Schleusner’s first homer of the year followed to give the Yellowjackets a 3-2 lead, as they responded immediately after falling behind.

 

Roy delivered a two-run home run of his own in the bottom of the fourth, as the Cowboys wrestled command back. Redmond did well to limit the damage in the inning, buckling down to strike out the final batter with runners stranded on the corners.

 

PJ Ausmus drew a walk to leadoff the fifth inning, and Sam Powers raced around to third base for an RBI-triple to the left-center gap as he pulled the Yellowjackets even once again at 4-4. Two more unearned runs in the bottom of the inning pushed NMHU back in front however, and that time it was for good as the ‘Jackets trailed the rest of the game.

 

MSUB appeared momentarily to put the tying run on base with two outs in the ninth, when Justin Lutz beat out an errant throw to first base and was initially called safe. After a collision with NMHU first baseman Gavin Gifford in foul territory however, Lutz was ruled out for interference ultimately ending the game.

 

Roy finished the game 3-for-5 with three RBIs, while Gaylan Young went 3-for-4 to lead the Cowboys’ offense. Martinez gave up three runs on four hits with five strikeouts and no walks in his four innings of work, before giving way to Brady Salyards. The right-hander earned his first collegiate win, striking out seven and walking three while allowing two runs on four hits in 4 2/3 innings of relief.

 

NMHU got the win despite leaving a dozen runners on base, while MSUB stranded nine hitters in the game and struck out 12 times.

 

THE BUZZ: Lay was tabbed the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…Riley’s home run was the second of his career…Schleusner’s homer was the seventh of his career…with his two RBIs Thursday, Schleusner moved to No. 9 in MSUB history with 84 career RBIs…Thursday was the second time in Cipriano’s MSUB career that he had two doubles in a game, with the last being March 8, 2019 at Northwest Nazarene…Thursday was the first-ever meeting between the Yellowjackets and Cowboys.

The season-opening weekend continues on Friday, as the Yellowjackets are scheduled to play a doubleheader against No. 5 Colorado Mesa University. First pitch is scheduled for noon at Suplizio Field,

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