Story from Montana Sports Information

That Grizzly Softball Field magic, responsible for so many memorable moments since the ballpark’s opening, survived a particularly dark, cold, snowy winter and has emerged alive and well, ready for another season of thrills.

For proof, look no further than Sunday, as Montana rallied from a five-run deficit — and 6-2 hole going into the bottom of the seventh — to defeat Seattle 9-8 in nine innings at the Grizzly Classic, one game after topping Maine 5-2.

The wins gave Montana a 5-1 record at this year’s home tournament and make the Grizzlies 14-2 on their home field since last April.

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“We just have a really big sense of pride at home,” said Bethany Olea, the only senior on this year’s team.

“A lot of teams are excited to play here, because they’ve never played on a turf field. We want to show them that this is ours and that nobody is going to take it from us.”

The final game of the three-day tournament was the most dramatic. After spotting the Redhawks a 5-0 lead, Montana began its comeback with a pair of runs in the fifth. But the Grizzlies still trailed 6-2 entering the bottom of the seventh.

After a walk, single and walk loaded the bases with nobody out, the perfect situation emerged, with Montana’s best power hitter, Delene Colburn, facing Seattle ace Andie Larkins.

Colburn hit a home run to tie it, just not the way anyone would have predicted.

She sent one down the right-field line, which Seattle’s right fielder tried to charge in and make a play on. She came up short and the ball rolled to the fence, allowing Colburn to clear the bases and tie the score.

With the tiebreaker rule in place — teams started any extra innings at the tournament with a runner at second — Seattle used a sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth to go up 7-6.

That looked like it might be enough after Katie Jo Waletzko was tagged out in the bottom half of the inning in a rundown between third and home, but Anne Mari Petrino was ready for the (thus far) defining moment of her freshman season.

Petrino went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts against Maine in Sunday’s opener and didn’t start against Seattle, but with two outs and Gabby Martinez on second in the bottom of the eighth, Petrino sharply ground one up the middle to score Martinez and extend the game to the ninth.

“That was huge,” said coach Jamie Pinkerton. “She struggled in the first game. Her bat just wasn’t on a good plane, slapping-wise. She was chopping, so I just told her to swing away in that situation.”

The Redhawks used a sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly to take an 8-7 lead in the top of the ninth.

Olea walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth, which put runners at first and second for Colburn, but this time Larkins came out on top, striking out Colburn looking.

With one out, Ashlyn Lyons ripped an opposite-field grounder into left to score Sydney Stites from second and even the score.

With Olea at third and Lyons at second, Madison Saacke put the ball in play toward first base. A play was made on Olea at the plate, but she slid in before the tag. Montana 9, Seattle 8.

Montana has now won six of its last seven, with 19-6 Boise State coming to Missoula on Tuesday for a doubleheader at noon. Four days after that, the start of Big Sky Conference games, with a series against North Dakota.

“We’re taking this team into conference whether I feel we’re ready or not,” said Pinkerton, who lost his starting center fielder and leadoff hitter, MaKenna McGill, to an injury on Friday. Her long-term diagnosis has yet to be determined.

“We still have some things to tinker with on Tuesday before we try to get things set for conference play. We’ve got to work through MaKenna’s injury. We tried to do that a little bit this weekend with the lineup.”

In Sunday’s opener, Montana jumped on Maine early and never trailed. The Grizzlies took a 1-0 lead in the first on a double steal by Colburn and Olea and three more times in the second, with Stites driving in two runs with a triple to right center that made it 4-0.

That would be all the support Michaela Hood would need to improve to 5-2. She allowed just five hits while striking out six for her fourth complete game of the season.

The Black Bears pulled within 4-2 in the top of the sixth, but the Grizzlies answered with one in the bottom on a Stites RBI single through the right side to make it 5-2. Stites would finish the game with two hits and three RBIs.

Hood put Maine down in order in the seventh.

Had Montana lost to Seattle in the tournament finale, it would have felt like defeat by paper cut. The Redhawks had key hit after key hit to score one run in the first, one in the second, one in the third, one in the fourth and one in the fifth.

Seattle chased Montana starter Colleen Driscoll after four innings and got to Sara Stephenson for another in the top of the seventh that made it 6-2.

Montana’s bats were slow to get going, and it didn’t help the Grizzlies committed three errors to match their second-highest total of the season.

“Defensively we weren’t very sharp, and I don’t know if I’ve had a game where a team puts up a picket fence across the scoreboard and we still win,” said Pinkerton. “They scored in eight of the nine innings today, and we still won.

“It wasn’t clean and we weren’t good offensively early, but we’ll take it. We adjusted in the nick of time.”

It didn’t feel like it at the time, but Kylie Hayton’s leadoff walk in the bottom of the fifth started Montana’s rally. She scored on an Olea single, and Stites was driven home by Colburn, who had 12 runs batted in on the weekend.

Montana went down in order in the sixth, setting the stage for the dramatic seventh, which started with Morgan Johnson matching fellow freshman Hayton in the fifth with a leadoff walk.

“The freshmen definitely put their stamp on the weekend,” said Pinkerton. Hood had three wins on the weekend, and Petrino had the big two-out, run-scoring single in Sunday’s second game.

“Kylie works a walk in the fifth and scores. Morgan works a walk in the seventh. At some point this weekend, all four of our freshmen put their stamp on a game for us.”

After Johnson’s walk, Stites singled and Olea drew a walk, setting the stage for another Colburn-Larkins battle, won by Colburn with her inside-the-park home run.

Petrino had the big hit in the bottom of the eighth, with Lyons and Saacke coming through in the ninth, the weekend list of heroes going from top of the order to the bottom, with no deficit too large to overcome.

“It’s one of those things where anybody can be called on at any moment, and we’re always ready,” said Olea. “If your number is called, you just play the game.”

And expect a little Grizzly Softball Field magic.