STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION
RIVERSIDE, CA – The Montana softball team struck early offensively and rode the right arm of Michaela Hood from there, wrapping up the Amy Harrison Classic with a 3-2 victory over host UC Riverside on Sunday afternoon.
The Grizzlies (3-11), who went 2-2 at the tournament, scored twice in the first, again in the second, and Hood took a shutout into the sixth to record her first win and first complete game of the season against a team that had won seven of its previous eight games.
“We knew we were facing a good team today, and we wanted to show who we are,” said coach Melanie Meuchel. “I think we came out and did that from the get-go and set a tone. We played very confidently the entire game.”
MaKenna McGill, who batted .600 in four tournament games and had a .714 on-base percentage, and Delene Colburn led off the game with back-to-back walks. Both would come around to score.
With two outs and McGill at third and Colburn at second, Dani Walker singled through the right side to score McGill. Anne Mari Petrino followed with a ball that the third baseman couldn’t handle, allowing Colburn to score on the error.
Madison Saacke led off the second with a walk. Gabby Martinez sacrificed her to second, McGill singled her to third and Colburn brought her home with a double down the left-field line, making it 3-0 before the Highlanders had their first base runner.
“We were focused early, we were determined early and that allowed us to strike early,” said Meuchel.
The three runs would be enough for Hood, who looked like the 2017 version of herself, when she won 18 games and had a 2.31 ERA.
She allowed just three hits through the first five innings against a team that had scored 18 runs while opening the tournament with wins over New Mexico and George Washington.
“Michaela did a great job. She controlled the hitters and controlled the zone,” said Meuchel. “She really stepped up and made big pitches when we needed them, and that’s what we know of her from last year.
“She was able to get a weak ground ball, a strikeout or make something happen when we needed it.”
She would need it late, as Meuchel stuck with her top pitcher through some tense moments in the sixth and seventh innings.
After Riverside scored its first run of the game with an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, the Highlanders still had runners on first and third with one out.
Hood would strike out the next batter, then force a fly out to left to end the inning after an infield error had allowed Riverside to make it 3-2.
Hood put down the first two batters she faced in the bottom of the seventh but gave up a two-out double to left center, putting the tying run at second and brining the winning run to the plate.
The next batter drove one to right center, but McGill tracked it down from center field to secure the win. “It was one heck of a catch to end the game,” said Meuchel.
There is still work to be done. After all, the Grizzlies left 39 runners on base in four games at Riverside and batted .248. But the pitching staff had a 2.59 ERA and Montana picked up a pair of wins.
“We saw that we could compete in all the games this weekend and really pull through when we needed to, especially against a quality team like Riverside,” said Meuchel. “They’ve been beating people, so this was a big win.”
Montana will play five games in three days next weekend at the Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah. The Grizzlies will play Seattle twice, Boise State twice and end the tournament with a matchup against Nevada.