(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
PHOENIX — The Montana softball team opened its season with a pair of losses to the host Lopes as the Grand Canyon Kickoff Tournament got underway in Phoenix on Thursday evening.
The Grizzlies dropped the opener 6-2 and lost the second game 5-2, giving up a four-run inning in both that proved to be too much for Montana to overcome.
“That’s something we’ve talked about since the program started, how the big inning against us can be the difference between a win and a loss,” said Melanie Meuchel, in her first games as head coach after spending the previous three seasons in the program as an assistant.
“You either have to overcome those big innings or eliminate them, because it’s hard to come back after giving up a four-spot. That’s something we pride ourselves on and something I see us succeeding on in the long run.”
Montana went with sophomore Michaela Hood in the opener and junior Maddy Stensby in game two. Both were tagged with losses.
Hood allowed 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings and six runs, five of them earned. She was relieved by junior Colleen Driscoll.
Stensby went the distance in the second game and took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth, when she gave up a two-out grand slam.
“We need to be better on the mound in general,” said Meuchel, whose team had a 3.09 ERA last season. “Michaela is better than she showed today, and Maddy had a decent outing. It was one pitch that let them back into the game.”
After giving up base hits to Grand Canyon in each of the first two innings in the opener, Hood allowed four runs on five hits in the third. She allowed three more hits in the bottom of the fourth before being relieved by Driscoll.
All six Grand Canyon runs were charged to Hood, with Driscoll giving up just two hits in 2 2/3 innings of work.
Montana scored its first run of the game in the fourth, when Gabby Martinez led off with a single down the left-field line. She advanced to third on a pair of groundouts, then scored on an Ashlyn Lyons single up the middle that made it 4-1.
The Grizzlies, down 6-1, scored again in the sixth, when Delene Colburn doubled off the wall in right-center to score Martinez, who reached by fielder’s choice.
Montana opened the seventh with back-to-back hits, but a fielder’s choice and double play ended the threat.
The Grizzlies grabbed their first lead of the season in the second game, going up 1-0 in the top of the third when Alex Wardlow singled up the middle to score Colburn from third. Jessica McAlister, who started both games as the designated player, was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second.
Grand Canyon tied it with an RBI double in the bottom of the fourth, Montana answered right back in the top of the fifth when Madison Saacke doubled in pinch runner Kylie Hayton from first.
The bottom of the fifth would prove fateful, as the Lopes used three infield singles to load the bases against Stensby. After a fly out put Montana one out from getting out of the jam, Sierra Smith homered to deep right-center to make it 5-2.
Montana put two on in the top of the sixth, but they would be left on base, which was a game-two trend for the Grizzlies. They left runners on base in each of the first six innings, 10 for the game.
Montana went down in order in the seventh.
“It was game one and two of the season, but we noticed some areas we can be better at,” said Meuchel. “We had a few opportunities get by us offensively at the plate. I thought we were second-guessing ourselves.
“We didn’t walk away with a win today, but I’m still proud of this team and comfortable with this team.”
Montana will face Pacific at noon on Friday. The Tigers play their season opener against Weber State on Friday morning.