Jackets take series from Wolves behind Cooper's stellar start - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Jackets take series from Wolves behind Cooper's stellar start

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Turning in the gutsiest start of the season for the Montana State University Billings baseball team on Easter Sunday, junior Cody Cooper tossed 142 pitches and limited Western Oregon University to one run in eight innings as the Yellowjackets won 6-1 and captured 2 of 3 Great Northwest Athletic Conference games at Dehler Park over the weekend.

The win pushed MSUB to 13-11 overall on the year, and kept the ‘Jackets in the upper half of the GNAC standings at 7-8 in conference games. The Wolves fell to 10-13, and are now 5-8 in GNAC play.

“All the credit goes to my offense and the guys behind me,” commented Cooper as he was doused by his teammates with an ice bath during a postgame interview. “I always try to pitch like I’m down two (runs), and I just try to grind every at bat. Once our offense started going, I had no doubt that we had that game in hand.”

The Wolves had runners on base in each of the first four innings, as Cooper had to work out of several major jams to keep WOU scoreless. “Cody just never gave in,” said MSUB head coach Rob Bishop. “He kept himself under control, threw his off-speed stuff for strikes, and he has just showed a lot of moxie all season long.”

Loading the bases with one out in the third, Cooper battled for a strikeout and stranded the runners with a fly-ball out to end the inning. The very next frame, WOU threatened again with the bases loaded and one out. This time, Cooper watched as senior shortstop Corey Morris handled a sharp ground ball up the middle, and fed to Colter Sternhagen for a momentum-shifting, inning-ending double play.

Nearly coming up with the defensive play of the day in center field, a deep fly ball off the bat of Kyle Vanderkin glanced off the glove of Luke Reinschmidt as he crashed into the wall 410 feet from home plate. The leadoff triple in the sixth inning eventually put WOU ahead, as Joey Crunkilton lifted a sacrifice fly to the outfield to make the score 1-0.

Having failed to score against WOU right-hander Gary Steindorf to that point, Sternhagen quickly got the run back as he drilled a game-tying, solo home run deep over the fence in left-center field. “That’s definitely been the theme of our team, we get down but we never stop fighting,” Sternhagen said. “We have had a lot of comeback wins, and today was a big one of those.”

Extending the sixth inning and rallying with two outs, Landon Peterson singled and Myles Berkram walked to load the bases.

Less than 14 hours after ending Saturday night’s game with a bases-loaded walk, senior Kyle Durbin again drew a free pass with the bases loaded, giving MSUB a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth. Elias Bedolla took over for Steindorf on the mound, and walked Reinschmidt on five pitches for another run in the inning.

With the lead now in his hands, Cooper was at his best in the late innings. A quick, 13-pitch seventh frame in which he retired the side in order set him up to return to the mound in the eighth inning, but not before the ‘Jackets got back to work offensively after the seventh-inning stretch.

Back-to-back walks from Bedolla started the bottom of the seventh, but he recovered to retire the next two batters and threatened to strand MSUB’s baserunners. Peterson stepped up and delivered a huge, two-out, two-run single into right field that distanced MSUB at 5-1.

Determined to get through one more inning, Cooper worked around a pair of singles in the eight and struck out the side to set MSUB up for the victory.

Durbin lifted his third home run of the season over the wall in right field in the bottom of the inning, adding one more insurance run and making the score 6-1.

Taking over for Cooper in the ninth, freshman Jared Winslow plowed through WOU’s three hitters in order, starting with a strikeout and watching Sternhagen record the final out of the game on a ground out.

Cooper improved to 5-0 on the season, allowing one run on nine hits with four walks and six strikeouts. He reclaimed his current title of GNAC leader in strikeouts as he moved up to 48 on the season, and his five victories are tied for the most in the league.

Durbin finished the game 3-for-4 with two RBIs, and Luke Reinschmidt had a pair of hits including a double for the ‘Jackets.

Crunkilton, Erik Long, and Jay Leverett each had a pair of hits for WOU, which stranded 11 baserunners in the ballgame. Steindorf took the tough loss for the visitors, allowing three runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts and three walks in 5 2/3 innings pitched. Bedolla threw the final 2 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on two hits with four walks and three strikeouts.

THE BUZZ: Cooper was picked as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game with his toughest outing of the season…Peterson had his first career multi-hit game for the ‘Jackets…Peterson also caught a WOU baserunner stealing, as he threw out Cody Sullivan in the second to negate an error by the ‘Jackets defensively…Reinschmidt upped his GNAC-leading RBIs total to 29 on the season.

COMING UP: The ‘Jackets head to Washington next week for a four-game series at Saint Martin’s University. Doubleheaders are scheduled for a 2 p.m. Mountain time start on April 2 and a 1 p.m. start the following day at the SMU baseball field, where live stats will be available.

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