(Editor’s note: University of Montana athletics release)
MISSOULA – It’s official: Montana version 4.0 is finally starting to give off the feel of its predecessors
Trailing 3-2 entering the seventh inning on Saturday afternoon at Southern Utah, the Grizzlies scored twice to rally for a 4-3 victory over the Thunderbirds and finish off a three-game sweep at Kathryn Berg Field.
Montana becomes the first Big Sky Conference team to go 3-0 against Southern Utah this season while upping its winning streak to four with three weekends of league series remaining.
“It’s something we’ve prided ourselves on the three previous years, being a team that never gives up and always thinks it has a chance,” said coach Melanie Meuchel.
Montana scored three in the top of the seventh in the series opener on Friday to win 4-1 and scored two in the fifth and two more in the sixth to take the second game 5-3.
The Grizzlies did it again on Saturday.
Down a run going into the seventh, Alex Wardlow led off with a walk. Pinch runner McKenzie Phillips was moved to second by Gabby Martinez, who laid down such a well-placed bunt that her sacrifice turned into an infield single, putting two runners on for the top of the order without anyone out.
MaKenna McGill advanced both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice, setting up a scenario Meuchel would take any game and feel confident in her team’s chances: the outcome on the line with Delene Colburn and Ashlyn Lyons due up.
And did they ever deliver.
Colburn smoked a single up the middle to plate Phillips. Just two pitches later Lyons doubled down the left-field line to score Martinez and give Montana the lead.
“That’s what Griz softball is and has been, and I really kind of felt that from the group this weekend,” said Meuchel. “They had a quiet confidence that they could do it, and they stepped up and did it.
“It’s nice to see that fight again, that confidence and having each other’s back and knowing they can do it all the way to the last out. It was nice to see that from them.”
Maddy Stensby matched the program record with 13 strikeouts in Montana’s second win on Friday, and Meuchel called on her left-hander again in the finale.
She was staked to a two-run lead after Lyons tripled home the game’s first run and Madison Saacke made it 2-0 with an RBI single in the top of the first, but Southern Utah didn’t need long to tie it.
Sarah Murphy led off the bottom of the first with a home run to right, and the Thunderbirds made it 2-2 later in the inning with an RBI single.
They took a 3-2 lead in the second and had six hits off Stensby in her three innings of work.
“They struggled with Maddy’s change-up yesterday, so I wanted to come back with her again, with the off-speed she had,” said Meuchel.
“The one thing about our staff is I feel like we’re deep enough that anyone can step up.”
For the second time in the series it was Colleen Driscoll, who earned the win in the opener with 4 2/3 innings of effective relief of Michaela Hood.
She came on in the fourth on Saturday and gave Montana a chance, holding Southern Utah to just two hits over the final four innings, both coming in the sixth when Driscoll pitched out of a bases-loaded jam.
“Colleen is just consistent. She’s determined and driven and steps up in big times, and that’s what you’re going to get out of her 99.9 percent of the time,” said Meuchel, whose staff held one of the Big Sky’s most potent offenses to 13 runs over three games and a .213 batting average.
“Southern Utah is a great hitting team that can put up monster power numbers. There isn’t a kid in the lineup that you can take off. A pitch here or a pitch there can change the game.”
Driscoll issued a two-out walk in the seventh, and the Thunderbirds had the tying run in scoring position after the potential game-ending infield pop-up was lost in the sun and fell to the dirt, but she picked up her fifth win of the season with a foul pop-up to Saacke behind the plate to end the game.
Lyons, Saacke and Martinez all had two hits in the win, with Lyons driving in two with two extra-base hits. Lyons has had multiple hits in four of Montana’s last five games.
The Grizzlies will now take a four-game winning streak into a five-game homestand. Montana will host Carroll in a doubleheader on Wednesday, then face Portland State in a three-game series next weekend.
“I’ll say it 100 times over. Our team loves playing in Missoula and loves playing in front of their fans,” said Meuchel. “Coming off a nice weekend like this should really give us a pep in our step.”