(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
PHOENIX — The Montana softball team lost 6-2 to Weber State and 4-0 to top-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday on the final day of the Grand Canyon Kickoff Tournament in Phoenix.
The Grizzlies (0-5) opened the season with a pair of losses to the host Lopes on Thursday evening, then fell 7-6 to Pacific on Friday after giving up five runs to the Tigers with two outs in the top of the seventh.
“We’re disappointed to come away from this tournament with the record we have, but I have a lot of respect for the teams we played,” said first-year coach Melanie Meuchel.
“There were times over the weekend when we did some things very well, but we never really did settle in. It wasn’t until we played Oklahoma that we played a little more loosely and true to who we are.”
Saturday’s opener was a matchup of the teams picked first (Griz) and second (Wildcats) in this year’s Big Sky Conference preseason poll.
With Montana putting Colleen Driscoll, a player who pitches to contact, inside the circle against one of the Big Sky’s best hitting teams, the Grizzlies needed to be sharp defensively in support of their starter.
But a two-out error in the fourth allowed a pair of unearned runs to score, putting Weber State up 3-0. An outfield error in the fifth gave the Wildcats three more unearned runs, making it 6-0.
“I thought we were pressing a little bit and trying to play too perfectly, and we’re outside of our element when we play that way,” said Meuchel.
“We’d have an error, then from there things would kind of unravel for us. That’s part of the pressing and feeling like we need to be perfect. We weren’t as crisp defensively as we should have been. We gave too many opportunities to our opponents.”
Limited to just three infield singles through five, Montana finally got on the scoreboard in the sixth, turning four hits into a pair of runs.
Jessica McAlister drove in her first collegiate run with an infield single and Morgan Johnson later gave the Grizzlies their second run on a fielder’s choice.
Against the No. 1 ranked Sooners, Meuchel went with her ace, sophomore Michaela Hood, who gave up 10 hits and six runs in 3 1/3 innings of work on Thursday in Montana’s season-opening 6-2 loss to Grand Canyon.
It didn’t take long for her to show she was up to the challenge.
Hood put the Sooners down in order in the first, including a strikeout of Shay Knighten, the Most Outstanding Player at last June’s Women’s College World Series, to end the inning.
“Michaela showed a lot of composure today,” said Meuchel. “They are an excellent hitting team and pegged her for a couple of hits, but she also had them stumped at times. I thought she had a great day on the mound.”
Sydney Romero singled and later scored on an infield hit to open the scoring in the second. Her two-run home run in the third made it 3-0, and she drove in Oklahoma’s final run in the fifth on a single through the left side.
“She’s one of the best in the game, and that’s why you want to play a team like Oklahoma. They are what you aspire to be, and you get to see it in person. That can kind of push you a little bit more,” said Meuchel.
Montana picked up its first hit of the game when MaKenna McGill led off the fourth with a single up the middle off Oklahoma starter Mariah Lopez.
Ashlyn Lyons, who went 6 for 15 on the trip, had Montana’s only other hit of the game, a lead-off single up the middle in the seventh off reliever Nicole Mendes.
“We kind of showed what Griz softball is in that game,” said Meuchel. “We had a play here and there that we didn’t execute, but I felt like we always rebounded on the back side of it. We pulled ourselves through and didn’t give them any major innings.”
Hood pitched five innings. She was relieved for the sixth by freshman Tristin Achenbach, who took the loss on Friday against Pacific, giving up a two-out, two-strike grand slam in the top of the seventh after pitching well in her collegiate debut.
In her one inning against the Sooners she walked two and hit a batter to load the bases, but she also had two strikeouts, the second on three pitches with two outs and the bases loaded.
“She threw a great game (on Friday). She just had an unfortunate circumstance at the end of that game,” said Meuchel. “She is going to be good for us and do good things.
“She showed good composure today. She stuck to who she is.”
Montana will return to Arizona next week for the Hillenbrand Invitational in Tucson. The Grizzlies will face Troy, Colorado State, Louisiana-Monroe, Arizona and Troy a second time.