(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA — After 24 games away from home to start the season, the Montana softball team was noticeably — and maybe understandably — tight as it made its home debut against Providence on Tuesday afternoon at Grizzly Softball Field.
But after falling behind the Argos 1-0 in game one of the doubleheader, it was all Grizzlies after that.
Montana rallied for a 3-1 grind-it-out victory in its home opener behind a complete game from Michaela Hood, then got a five-inning no-hitter from Tristin Achenbach in game two as the offense got rolling in an 8-0 shutout.
“We were too anxious. We were too uptight, trying to be perfect,” said Melanie Meuchel, who was coaching her first official game at home.
“It was something we talked about between games, that it wasn’t our personality, and that helped us loosen up at the plate after trying to be a little too big early.”
Achenbach hadn’t won a game since Feb. 16, hadn’t pitched more than an inning in her two appearances the last two weekends and started game two on Tuesday with an ERA of 5.83.
But she carried none of that baggage into the circle on Tuesday. She struck out two in the first, two in the second and the side in the fifth to record Montana’s third five-inning no-hitter in program history.
“I’d been struggling the past couple of weekends, so it was nice to get out here and do my thing, and have my teammates behind me to make plays and score runs,” Achenbach said.
The Grizzlies scored one in the second on a bases-loaded walk, another in the third on a wild pitch and broke it open in the fourth.
MaKenna McGill made it 3-0 with an infield single, and Delene Colburn followed with a towering three-run, 261-foot home run that put Montana up 6-0. It was Colburn’s fifth of the year, the 41st of her career.
She finished the day 4 for 6, with four RBIs and three runs scored.
“We were pressing early on,” Colburn said. “It was our first home game, and that can bring some nerves. We started playing the Griz way in the second game, and you could tell it by the score.
“We were a little looser and had more of an attack mode in the second game.”
That was plenty of support for Achenbach, who set a new season high with nine strikeouts. She walked one and hit a batter to face just 17 Argos.
“The first couple of weekends I had a hard time being me and doing what I do out there. I tried to be someone other than myself and what I do best,” said Achenbach.
“Dani (Walker) did a great job calling the game, and I located the balls she called for me. Everyone behind me made great plays, so honestly it was just an all-around team effort.”
After Colburn made it 6-0 in the fourth, Madison Saacke ended it in the fifth, after just 74 minutes, with a walk-off, two-run single.
Maddy Stensby led off the fifth with a triple down the right-field line, and Katie Jo Waletzko drew a four-pitch walk to put two on for Saacke, who delivered her third hit of the day to give Montana its second run-rule win of the season.
Providence, which was playing both games as exhibitions that did not count toward its record, scored the day’s first run in game one when Ashton Bell drove a two-out double to right-center off Hood that scored Lewistown’s Karlie Southworth.
The Argos had two of the three hits they would collect in seven innings off Hood in the second inning.
Montana took the lead in the third when Kylie Hayton singled to center, stole second, then scored on a Colburn single and Providence error, the only one committed by either team in the two games.
Colburn ended up on third on the play and jotted home when Ashlyn Lyons followed with a double to right-center.
The Grizzlies made it 3-1 in the fifth. Gabby Martinez, who went 2 for 3 with a walk, an RBI and two runs in the doubleheader, led off with a single to center. She advanced to second on a wild pitch.
McGill advanced her to third with a ground out to second, and Colburn drove her in with a double to left-center.
Hood gave up a hard-hit leadoff double in the top of the sixth, but she worked out of it, getting a ground out, an infield pop-up and a strikeout, one of eight for her on the day, a season high.
Over a dozen innings, Hood and Achenbach allowed three hits while striking out 17. Behind them, Montana played error-free defense.
“Everyone will say defense wins championships, and it really does,” said Meuchel. “And it works together as a collective unit.
“It starts in the middle, on the mound, and they set the tone, but when you make plays behind your pitchers, it relaxes them. They know they don’t have to be perfect, and that makes them better.”
The sweep gives Montana four wins in its last seven games as it prepares to face Utah Valley in a three-game series later this week.
The Grizzlies will face the Wolverines, who play two games at Boise State on Wednesday, at 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and at noon on Saturday.