Mustangs pitchers shut down Helena, 9-1
By GREG RACHAC
Of The Gazette Staff
Saturday night marked Anthony Gressick's first professional start.
The Billings Mustangs' rookie never looked uncomfortable.
Gressick threw five strong innings, rendering three hits and no runs while striking out three as the Mustangs cruised to a 9-1 win over the Helena Brewers at Cobb Field.
Gressick, drafted this year by the Cincinnati Reds out of Ohio University, was unshakeable against the Brewers, much to the delight of his manager, Rick Burleson. "He was good from the outset and finished very well," Burleson said. "He did everything we asked. He located the ball down in the zone and threw strikes. You can't ask for much more than that from a guy in his first start."
Burleson and the Mustangs' coaching staff had Gressick pegged for a 55-pitch outing, if he could get there.
Gressick threw exactly 55 pitches, then gave way to a bullpen that was just as effective.
Dane Mason and James Morris combined to toss the final four innings of the game, giving up just two hits and the team's only walk.
Helena pushed a run across in the top of the sixth inning against Mason when leadoff hitter Stephen Chapman delivered a sacrifice fly to score Jordan Swaydan.
He almost didn't score, as centerfielder Drew Stubbs, the Reds' first-round draft choice in '06, nearly threw Swaydan out at the plate after gathering the fly ball.
But that was all the Brewers could muster.
"Our pitchers did an amazing job," said Mustangs third baseman Jason Louwsma. "Everybody did their job tonight. We played together as a team."
On the flipside, the Mustangs' offense could not be stopped, especially from the fifth spot in the batting order on down.
Louwsma, the No. 5 hitter, delivered a pair of hits and a pair of RBIs. The sixth man in the lineup, Angel Colon, added three hits and three RBIs.
Chris Heisey, Tony Esquer and Maikol Mesa -- the 7-8-9 men -- combined to add three hits and drove in a pair of runs to add to Billings' onslaught.
"Basically from the beginning, we made the plays," Louwsma said. "We got guys on and got them into scoring position. We were able to build a pretty comfortable lead."
It started early.
After the Mustangs got a run in the first inning, the team put three more on the board in the third, led by Colon's two-RBI single and followed by Esquer's run-scoring groundout.
They'd get three more runs in the sixth as Louwsma, Colon and Heisey each delivered RBI hits.
On three separate occasions, Billings had the bases loaded. Despite scoring nine runs, it could have been worse for Helena -- the Mustangs stranded 11 runners on base.
"If we can get the bottom half of the order contributing like we did tonight, we'll put up some runs," Burleson said. "Tonight, we had 22 base runners, and scored eight of nine runners from third base with less than two outs. So we're happy about that."
The Mustangs and Brewers will tangle again today at 4 p.m. in the final game of the Mustangs' season-opening homestand.
After today's game, Billings will embark on a seven-game road swing through Missoula and Great Falls.
While the season is still young, Burleson's early impressions of his team is an optimistic one.
"Until you see the whole league, you don't really know where you stand," he said. "But I like our guys and I think we have a good group. We just have to come to the ballpark every day with the attitude that we're going to get better. At this level that's what it's all about."
NOTES: Helena left fielder Zach Clem left the game after the first inning when he collided with shortstop Brad Miller while making a catch off the bat of Heisey. Carlos De La Cruz replaced Clem.