STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION
TUCSON, AZ – The Montana softball team defeated Troy and lost to unbeaten Colorado State on Friday as the Arizona Hillenbrand Invitational got underway in Tucson.
The Grizzlies (1-6) rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits in the opener to win 4-3 in eight innings over the Trojans and give Montana its first victory under first-year coach Melanie Meuchel.
In the team’s second game, the Rams’ Bridgette Hutton and Larisa Petakoff combined to limit the Grizzlies to just three hits as Colorado State improved to 5-0 with a 3-1 win.
Montana’s first win of the season required an all-hands-on deck approach, as 14 players got in the game and many of them had key contributions.
“It was great to get a win like that in a tight game,” said Meuchel. “I was proud of the girls, because it was a battle and a fight. It took the entire team to get it done.”
After Troy (3-2) opened the scoring with two runs on five singles in the bottom of the third off Montana starter Michaela Hood, the Grizzlies answered right back in the top of the fourth, drawing even at 2-2 when Tori Lettus singled to left with two outs to drive in Delene Colburn and Alex Wardlow.
The Trojans regained the lead with run in the bottom of the fifth, and it remained a one-run game into the seventh.
Anne Mari Petrino led off the seventh with a triple to right field, and Meuchel immediately went to her bench, bringing in freshman Lexi Knauss to pinch hit. She delivered, dropping one into left field that tied the score at 3-3 and gave Knauss her first collegiate hit and RBI.
“Anne Mari’s triple and her excitement for the start of that inning really set the tone. You felt it from everybody. Everybody who came to the plate after that had a belief in what they were doing and really executed,” said Meuchel.
With the tournament on a schedule, teams began their half of the eighth inning with a runner at second base.
In the top half of the inning, Morgan Johnson sacrificed Wardlow to third, and one out later, Lettus was at it again, coming through with a two-out single, this time to center, that gave Montana its first lead of the game.
“I thought we had great presence at the plate to push that run through,” said Meuchel. “We had some people step up.”
Freshman Tristin Achenbach had replaced Hood to start the bottom of the sixth, and she was still pitching when Troy got its chance to tie it or win it.
A sacrifice moved the Trojans’ lead runner to third with one out, but that’s as far as she would make it. Achenbach struck out the next batter, then got the final out on a foul pop-up to first base.
Montana’s rally gave Achenbach, who threw three innings of hitless relief, her first collegiate win.
“That’s a tough situation to play through defensively, but we made some plays and Tristin stepped up and made some very quality pitches,” said Meuchel. “She kind of put us on her back and finished it off for us.”
Colburn finished 4 for 4, Wardlow scored twice and Lettus was 2 for 4 while matching her career high with three driven in.
In Montana’s second game, the Grizzlies had no answer for the riddle that was Hutton’s pitches. They were held without a hit until the fifth, when Petrino came up with an infield single.
“I thought we were passive early, and that allowed her to have a good mix on us,” said Meuchel. “She had a great change-up and kept us off balance.
“We were probably too passive until the fifth, when we got that first hit. We looked a little different at the plate after that, a little more like ourselves.”
The Rams went up 1-0 in the third on an RBI single, 3-0 in the fourth on a two-run home run off Montana starter Maddy Stensby, who was replaced by Colleen Driscoll after giving up the home run.
Montana had a golden chance in the sixth. MaKenna McGill led off with a double, her first extra-base hit since last Feb. 12, and Ashlyn Lyons drove her in with a single to center.
Colburn drew a walk, which chased Hutton, and Petakoff walked the first batter she faced in relief, loading the bases with nobody out.
Lettus grounded one to third, allowing the Trojans to cut down pinch runner Kylie Hayton at the plate, keeping it a 3-1 game but with still only one out.
Morgan Johnson followed with a fly out to right, and Colburn ended the inning by getting put out in a rundown on the play.
“We kind of ran ourselves out of that inning with a couple of base-running errors,” said Meuchel. “We got a little bit outside of ourselves, but we’ll learn from it.”
Colleen Driscoll allowed just one hit while striking out three in her 2 2/3 innings of relief work.
Montana will face Louisiana-Monroe at 3 p.m. on Saturday and the host Wildcats at 7 p.m. The Grizzlies will face Troy a second time at 9 a.m. on Sunday.