(Editor’s note: University of Montana athletics release)
Montana took both games of a doubleheader from Carroll on Sunday afternoon at Grizzly Softball Field in Missoula, defeating the Saints by scores of 11-1 and 5-2.
Montana, which improved to 6-0 in its exhibition games, lost to Carroll and starting pitcher Allison Williams last fall by a score of 1-0. The Grizzlies had no such struggles this time around.
Montana scored three in the first off Williams in Game 1 and never stopped sending runners across the plate, putting up runs in all six innings the Grizzlies came to bat. In all it was 11 runs on 11 hits.
“Not many games do you put a run up every single inning,” said coach Melanie Meuchel. “We had a good presence at the plate and were looking to drive balls hard and hand the bat to the next person.”
The teams traded runs early in Game 2, and Montana came to the plate in the bottom of the fifth in a 1-1 tie.
It came earlier in the game, but it was similar to the situation they faced the previous weekend, when the Grizzlies got a walk-off home run from Morgan Johnson in the seventh to defeat North Idaho.
On Sunday it was a four-run fifth that broke the game open against Carroll starter Tess Eaton.
“They held us intact and we got outside of ourselves a little bit, swinging at things we couldn’t drive,” said Meuchel. “Once we settled in and let the ball get to us a little more is when we broke it open.”
Ava Dolan doubled in pinch runner Kylie Becker, who came on for McKenna Tjaden after she led off the inning with a single to left.
With two out and two on, Lexi Knauss had the inning’s big hit when she drove the first pitch she saw to right to make it 4-1. Cami Sellers followed with a rope to the fence in right-center that scored Knauss and made it 5-1.
“One thing I like about this team is there is never a panic,” added Meuchel. “It’s not a panic if we get down early or are in a tight game late. They have a confidence about them and a trust that is starting to build that someone is going to do it.”
It helps that Montana has the pitching staff it enjoys, four arms that now have a six-game ERA of 0.67, with opponents batting just .150 against Maddy Stensby, Colleen Driscoll, Michaela Hood and Tristin Achenbach.
Stensby and Hood teamed up in Game 1, allowing four hits while striking out seven. It was Driscoll and Achenbach in Game 2 allowing just three hits.
“We provide a sense of stability on the mound because we have the ball in our hands on every play,” said Stensby. “We feel like we can be the rock. As long as we keep swinging the bats like we did today, I like it.”
Sellers, Montana’s first-year transfer from Boston College, went 5 for 7 in the doubleheader, pounding out three doubles to drive in three.
Knauss drove in three as well and scored a team-high four runs while getting two starts at second base.
“I’ve seen a lot of really good things. We have a lot to work on, but I like the direction we’re going,” said Sellers, who played last season at Boston College and was one of eight newcomers on the roster when the fall season opened last month.
She’s been letting her bat do most of the talking this fall, but she’s finally comfortable enough with her new teammates that she’s taking her one year of ACC playing experience and stepping up in other ways as well.
“At the beginning I was stepping back, but as time’s gone on, I’ve come out of my shell a little bit,” she said. “I know the game and have been here before.”
Montana’s top three hitters through six games are newcomers. Dolan is batting .571, Tjaden .556 and Sellers .526.
Freshmen Maygen McGrath and Reilly Williams have matched the six RBIs that Sellers has driven in.
“We have a lot of new people, and they’ve really bought into the program,” said Stensby. “Whatever we’ve asked them to do, they’ve had an Okay, let’s get it done approach. That’s been a really big factor.”
Given the limited number of opponents Montana is geographically able to attract to Missoula each fall for exhibition games, the Grizzlies will always be expected to win.
But it hasn’t always played out like that. But this fall, which may or may not have more games to it, has felt like Montana has asserted itself, even with a large turnover in the roster from the spring.
“They are seeing some great things from themselves. I’m really proud of where we are right now,” said Meuchel.
“I’m proud of the way they come out every single day. They are great at the mental side, their focus and their delivery of what they can bring. They keep managing to step up and answer.”