(Editor’s Note: Story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA – Three Griz pitchers combined for a pair of shutouts on Wednesday as the Montana softball team swept Carroll in an afternoon doubleheader at Grizzly Softball Field in Missoula, winning 3-0 and 9-0.
Colleen Driscoll threw a four-hit shutout in the opener, giving her three wins in six days, and Maddy Stensby and Haley Young combined for a two-hit shutout in the second game.
The win in the opener gave Montana (21-22), which is one victory away from reaching .500 for the first time this season, its 100th in program history. The second made it six straight wins as the Grizzlies enter their final three weekends of regular-season games.
Playing their final nonconference games of the regular season, Montana wasted little time grabbing the lead in both, scoring its dozen runs on the day in the first two innings.
The Grizzlies led 3-0 after two innings in the opener against Allison Williams, the pitcher who defeated Montana 1-0 in a fall exhibition game, and 9-0 through two in the second game, using an eight-run second inning to blow the game open.
“One of our goals was to establish early who we are and be who we are in the first part of the game. Don’t wait and see what the game is going to bring to us. Let’s try to bring something to the game,” said coach Melanie Meuchel.
Nobody did that more than Delene Colburn. Two days after she was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week, Carroll failed to retire Colburn in her six plate appearances. She went 4 for 4 with a pair of walks. She drove in three and also scored three times.
It extended her hitting and RBI streaks to six games, which followed a five-game stretch when she went 1 for 13.
“I lost my confidence for a minute, I guess you could say,” said Colburn. “But I found it, and now I’m hitting the ball again.”
Colburn had Montana’s first hit of the day, singling through the left side with one out in the bottom of the first. Ashlyn Lyons, who was 4 for 6 on the day and has had multiple hits in six of the last seven games, followed with a double, putting runners on second and third.
It wasn’t anything flashy that gave Montana the early lead, just good situational hitting. Madison Saacke grounded out to the right side of the infield, which scored Colburn and moved Lyons over to third.
Jessica McAlister followed with a ground ball that the first baseman ranged far to her right to collect, but it left her too far from the base to make a play on McAlister. Lyons scored on the play.
“We didn’t always drive balls today, but we found places for balls to get, and we ran the bases well. We produced when we needed to,” said Meuchel.
“It’s not just hitting, it’s being present on the bases as well and being aware of opportunities when the batter can push you or hit behind you. Whatever it is, be aggressive. When that happens, it allows us to settle in at the plate as well, because you don’t have to be so big.”
Colburn drove in Gabby Martinez in the second with a single down the left-field line. The 3-0 lead was more than enough for Driscoll, who picked up two wins in relief in Montana’s road sweep last weekend at Southern Utah.
She has won her last three decisions and has dropped her ERA to 2.52.
“I think it was just sticking it out. I had a rough patch against North Dakota and Weber. I got out of my element a little bit. I had to go out there and really focus on nailing my drop ball, which is my go-to,” said Driscoll.
The first batter Driscoll faced on Wednesday lined a double down the left-field line, and Williams doubled to left-center in the fourth when her ball came up an inch or two short of clearing the fence, but they were mostly one-off moments. The Saints never could string anything together against Driscoll.
“Getting an early lead was very important,” said Driscoll. “It let us relax a little bit. We’re not as uptight. You always want to be perfect, but you don’t have the stress that you have to make the perfect pitch.”
Colburn and Lyons had five of Montana’s eight hits in the game, as the dynamic duo went 5 for 6 with two runs scored.
Montana took advantage of an early opportunity in the second game as well. Colburn drew a one-out walk, and Lyons singled through the right side. McAlister grounded out to second to advance the runners, and Colburn opened the scoring when she raced home on a passed ball.
A hint about how the second inning went for Montana: Dani Walker led off with a walk and scored. Later in the inning she had an RBI single up the middle.
It was all part of a seven-hit, eight-run inning as Montana roughed up Carroll starter Tess Eaton, who entered the game with a 10-1 record and 2.30 ERA. It took her 64 pitches just to get through 1 1/3 innings before she was relieved.
“I’m happy with our performance at the plate. I thought we stepped up,” said Meuchel, whose team scored more runs than it had since March 4.
“In an inning like that, you feed off each other. Everyone gets excited for the next person. It’s fun and contagious.”
Stensby got the start and allowed one hit through two innings. Montana’s eight runs in the bottom of the second allowed Meuchel to go to Young, giving the senior right-hander her first action since March 10.
“Her opportunities have been limited with our deep staff, but she still comes to work every day in the bullpen,” said Meuchel. “It can be hard to get all of them the opportunities they deserve.”
Young worked the final three frames of the five-inning game to pick up her first win of the season. She allowed just one hit while striking out five, a steely performance considering it was nearly 40 days between appearances.
“She had a great outing,” added Meuchel. “I was really happy with her mound presence and the confidence she showed.”
Eight players had hits in the game, with eight players scoring runs and six coming through with RBIs.
Montana will take its six-game winning streak into this weekend’s home series against Portland State (12-29, 5-6 BSC). The teams will play a doubleheader at 1 p.m. on Saturday and a single game on Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Grizzlies will wrap up their regular-season schedule with a road series at Northern Colorado and a home set against Sacramento State the first weekend of May.