(Editor’s note: University of Montana media relase)
EUGENE, Ore. — The Montana softball team used a pair of dominating pitching performances on Friday and some clutch hitting to open the Oregon Duck Invitational in Eugene with a pair of shutout wins.
The Grizzlies used a four-hit, complete-game shutout from Michaela Hood to knock off Bryant 7-0 in their tournament opener. And that wasn’t even the team’s top performance of the day.
That came hours later, when Colleen Driscoll allowed one hit and a single base runner over seven innings while striking out a career-high 10 as Montana topped Toledo 1-0.
The wins came five days after Montana defeated Nevada 16-3 at the Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah, giving the Grizzlies a three-game winning streak with an aggregate score of 24-3.
“From pitch one, it was a continuation and it was all day long,” said coach Melanie Meuchel. “We just had the same approach we had at the end of last Sunday.
“We were excited to play. Everyone wanted to have the ball, everyone wanted to be in the position to make a play. Over the course of a week, we’ve really turned into who we’ve wanted to be.”
It didn’t look like that early on against Bryant, as Hood gave up hits to the first two batters she faced. She got out of the first without allowing a run, then loaded the bases in the second with nobody out.
A line out to center, a fielder’s choice that cut down a runner at the plate and a strikeout ended that threat, and Hood would be in control the rest of the way, keeping the Bulldogs hitless over the final five innings.
“(Taking her out) was something that crossed my mind, but I felt like we were pretty locked in as a team,” said Meuchel. “They attacked us and kind of put us on our heels, but not enough to finish us off.
“Even when they had the bases loaded, we kept fighting back. We pitched and defended our way out of it.”
Montana took a 1-0 lead in the second, then opened it up in the third, scoring four runs on four hits to make it 5-0. The big blow came off the bat of Ashlyn Lyons, who hit a three-run home run.
It was Lyons’ second home run of the season, just the third of her career.
“Some of that is mechanical. She’s made some adjustments,” said Meuchel, who has Lyons hitting third, behind MaKenna McGill and Delene Colburn, players with on-base percentages of .477 and .535.
“She’s in a good spot to be able to drive the ball right now, and some of it is confidence that she isn’t just a base-hit hitter.”
Montana scored one in the fourth on an RBI single by Madison Saacke and one more in the sixth, when Lyons drove in McGill, who reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and advanced to third on a ground out.
Four players had multiple hits, with Saacke going 3 for 4, Lyons driving in four and McGill scoring three times.
Yet Hood pitching out of a jam second or Lyons homering in the third wasn’t what set the tone for the day. That came early, before first pitch. The entire roster was ready, even those who didn’t step on the field.
“Our dugout was phenomenal today. They brought a lot of energy for our team. I know they’re not making some of the plays, but they really brought the approach for our team today,” said Meuchel.
For as masterful as Hood was over the final two-thirds of her start, Driscoll managed to upstage her.
Going up against a 10-win Toledo team that scored six runs on Weber State one game earlier, Driscoll set the first 15 Rockets she faced down in order.
Ashley Rausch put an end to the perfect game and no hitter when she led off the sixth with a single that went just over the glove of second baseman Gabby Martinez.
Driscoll was unfazed. She set down the final six batters in order to face just one over the minimum for the game. She struck out 10 and forced eight ground outs and three fly outs, going the distance on 95 pitches.
“I’m pretty speechless. Phenomenal, just phenomenal,” said Meuchel. “She was dominating, she was gritty. She was Colleen Driscoll.
“She dominated from pitch one. She controlled counts and she got people to chase. And then she used grit.”
The game was still scoreless going into the bottom of the fifth, when Montana would score the game-winning run.
McGill came through with a one-out triple to right-center. After Colburn walked, Lyons hit a fly out to left that was deep enough to score McGill.
Montana only had five hits in the game, but it had the one it needed at the right time.
“It’s fun to win a 1-0 game,” said Meuchel. “It would have been nice to have a few more runs, but we’ve been in a lot of really close games and are comfortable in that situation. We put things together and finished.”
And now it gets serious. And really fun for Montana at a time when the Grizzlies feel prepared to take on the world.
After an afternoon game against Toledo on Saturday, the Grizzlies will face the No. 5 Ducks under the lights on Saturday night. Montana will play Oregon again on Sunday afternoon.
“I just feel as though we have a little bit of run on us right now. We’re playing with a lot of confidence,” said Meuchel.
“We’ve played in some close games this year against good teams. When you put all of that together, you have a chance against anyone you face.”