BILLINGS — Matt Dillon has a flair for the dramatic.
As a senior for Billings Skyview, he won the Class AA 182-pound state wrestling championship with a multiple overtime win against Randy Keesler of Great Falls to cap off an undefeated season.
Three months later, Dillon launched the ultimate baseball hit, a walk-off grand slam home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the Billings Royals over the Billings Scarlets.
“It’s got to be … against the crosstown rival … pretty near the top. One or two,” Dillon reminisced about his all-time favorite hits.
Three weeks more into the same season, Jalen Garcia of the Billings Scarlets launched a three-run walk-off home run to defeat the Royals.
The two now play in the same outfield for Montana State Billings with Dillon in right and Garcia in center.
“We still joke back and forth. It’s a blue-red thing,” Dillon said.
And Dillon was at it again last weekend at Dehler Park, hitting a walk-off two-run home run to give the Yellowjackets a 5-3 victory against Saint Martin’s. He added another home run on Sunday, MSUB’s program- and GNAC-record matching 13th for a four-game series.
In his fifth and final season, the well-respected Dillon is having his best year as a college baseball player. He has career-highs in every offensive category, including a .309 batting average and a GNAC-high 10 home runs. He has homered twice in three games and shares the league lead with teammate Daniel Cipriano.
“It’s been a great year,” said Dillon. “The coaches are doing a great job of getting us ready. Right now, I feel very comfortable at the plate.”
But it hasn’t always been hearty hugs and high-fives during his college career. Dillon has been broken, twisted and knocked down.
“I’ve been through the ringer,” he said.
And each time, Dillon has come back from major injury to return and find a way to help his team.
“I just want to get on the field,” he said. “When life knocks you down, you have to get back up.”
Dillon, who red shirted his first season with the Yellowjackets, “That was good for me. It gave me a year of development,” he, has alternated between catcher and the outfield for MSUB.
He suffered his first injury as a red shirt sophomore. Sliding on the slick turf against Concordia in Oregon, Dillon slammed into third base, suffering a spiral break of the fibula of his left leg and tearing some ligaments.
“I did some pretty good damage,” he said. “I slid and heard a ‘Pop, pop.’ “
Doctors would insert a plate and 10 screws into his leg. He was in a hard cast for six months, followed by a walking boot. “It was quite an ordeal,” he said.
Dillon was cleared to play by the end of the fall season but wasn’t the same player.
“I was cautious stepping on bases,” he admitted. “I was making sure where my step was going to be. I was timid the first couple of months back.”
The second injury came a year later after he fouled off a curve ball against Northwest Nazarene and his right knee buckled, dislocating his knee cap.
The original diagnosis thought he might have torn his ACL.
Again, he rehabbed and returned to the field.
“Matt has the respect of every single teammate,” said MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton. “He’s been through a lot and worked hard to come back.”
Dillon didn’t have to play this season. He earned his bachelor’s degree in health administration last year and is in the process of earning a master’s degree in the game. Dillon’s choice of profession was inspired by a grandmother who suffered Alzheimer’s disease.
“I want to manage a nursing home or health care facility someday,” he said. “I want to help the elderly.”
His competitiveness on the diamond also carries into the classroom. “Oh, I’m competitive,” Dillon added “In everything.” He graduated with a 3.82 grade point average for his bachelor’s degree and has a 4.0 for his master’s.
He is twice an all-GNAC academic selection and on his way to a third.
And his reason for returning for a fifth season was simple.
“My teammates,” he said. “One hundred percent my teammates. They have always been there for me and I didn’t want to give up on them.”
Always a team player, he even pitched a third of an inning against nationally-ranked Colorado Mesa earlier in the season.
“That didn’t go to well,” Dillon said with a chuckle. He allowed two runs on two hits, issuing two walks and striking out one. “I hadn’t pitched since I was with the Royals.”
The third of four brothers, the avid outdoorsman is already looking toward the future. He and Katie Nessan, a pediatric nurse, got engaged at Christmas. Their wedding date is June 20, 2020.
But first, Dillon’s trying to help MSUB win another GNAC title.
“I’m just doing what they need,” he said. “I want the team to have success. I want to win championships. And it takes every single person to win one.”