STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFROMATION
POCATELLO, ID – Already assured a series win after two victories on Saturday, the Montana softball team finished off a three-game road sweep of Idaho State on Sunday with a 4-2 victory over the Bengals at Miller Ranch Stadium in Pocatello.
The Grizzlies, who sit alone atop the Big Sky Conference standings at 3-0, scored three in the first and added another in the fifth to build a 4-0 lead in support of Michaela Hood, who went the distance for her second win of the series. Hood has won her last four starts.
The sweep is the first on the road for Montana since late in the 2016 season and extends the Grizzlies’ winning streak to eight, matching the program record.
Montana (15-17, 3-0 BSC) batted just .173 in the series but still returns home with three wins thanks to solid pitching from Hood and Maddy Stensby and an opportunistic offense that took advantage of six Idaho State errors in the teams’ three games.
Seven of the 11 runs Montana scored in the series were unearned, with three of those coming in the top of the first on Sunday.
MaKenna McGill, the game’s lead-off batter, reached on an infield error, and Delene Colburn followed by getting on base via an outfield error.
Montana would score on an RBI groundout by Jessica McAlister, an RBI single to right by Lexi Knauss and an Alex Wardlow RBI ground out. The damage: three runs on a single hit.
“People might say that’s luck, but I say luck is opportunity given to you by being in the right place at the right time and putting yourself consistently in that place and being ready for something to arise that you can’t control, and then taking care of it,” said coach Melanie Meuchel.
Montana staked Hood to a first-inning lead on Saturday in its series-opening 1-0 win, and the 3-0 lead she took into the bottom of the first on Sunday would be all the run support she would need.
Hood struck out two in the first, two in the second and two more in the third, and finished with a season-high 10 for the game, the fifth time she’s reached double digits in her career.
Idaho State had just three hits, all singles, going into the seventh before finally scoring their first earned runs of the series and their first runs in 13-plus innings against Hood.
A pair of singles and a passed ball put runners at second and third with one out for Shayna Dahlen, who ended both games on Saturday by striking out. On Sunday she delivered a two-run double that made it 4-2.
“I think Michaela showed a little bit of fatigue toward the end. She wasn’t finishing the last couple of hitters off, and they took advantage of what was given to them and put a little bit of pressure on,” said Meuchel.
“As a team we stepped up and knew we’d be okay. We just had to expect balls and be ready to make plays.” Which Ashlyn Lyons did.
With Dahlen on second and only one out, and Idaho State threatening for one of the few times all weekend, Cassidy FitzGerald smoked a grounder between first and second.
Had it gotten through the infield, it would have made it 4-3 and been the fourth consecutive hit off Hood, and Meuchel may have had to look at going to someone else in relief.
But Lyons had it covered. The left-hander made a diving stop, keeping Dahlen from advancing beyond third, and got to the bag just ahead of FitzGerald. With the tying run still at the plate with two outs, Hood coaxed a fly out to left to end the game.
“Ashlyn made an elite-level play, and it really was the stop of their momentum,” said Meuchel.
Montana won despite collecting just three hits on Sunday and swept the series with just 14 in three games, only four of which went for extra bases.
But the Grizzlies had just one error in 21 innings on defense and took full advantage of the starts made by Hood and Stensby, who finished the series with a collective ERA of 0.67.
“I’m proud of our team, with the fight they came out with from the opening pitch of the weekend,” said Meuchel. “We played with a lot of confidence and poise.
“And it feels like we’re really playing for each other. I like the feel of everything right now, whether it’s the people on the field or the people in the dugout. It just feels like everyone is pulling for everyone to do well.”
Montana will continue its Big Sky schedule next weekend with a three-game series at North Dakota (16-18, 2-1 BSC). The Fighting Hawks, who took two of three at Portland State on Friday and Saturday, are one of three teams a game behind the Grizzlies in the standings at 2-1.
The teams will play a doubleheader on Friday beginning at 1 p.m. (MT) and a single game on Saturday starting at noon (MT).