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Montana Grizzlies softball splits season-opening day

Posted: 4:55 PM, Feb 08, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-09 11:47:36-05

(Editor’s note: Story by Montana Sports Information)

DAVIS, Calif. – Montana defeated Santa Clara and lost to UC Davis on Friday at UCD’s La Rue Field as the 2019 softball season got underway for the Grizzlies at the NorCal Kickoff.

Montana scored three late runs to come away with a 3-0 victory over the Broncos in the season opener and couldn’t overcome two unearned runs in a 2-1 loss to the host Aggies.

“There were some moments that surprised me, when I thought we made some great plays, and there were times it felt early season,” said second-year coach Melanie Meuchel.

As expected, Montana didn’t give up much defensively, not with all four pitchers from a deep, experienced staff seeing action on opening day.

They allowed nine hits, all singles, over 13 innings while striking out eight. The only runs Santa Clara and UC Davis scored were unearned after a two-out error extended the Aggies’ inning in the bottom of the third.

“Being on dirt for the first time, I think we saw a little hesitation in our play, but overall I was pleased with the approaches we had at the plate, and I was definitely pleased with the pitchers,” said Meuchel.

“They came out and really threw well and kind of set the tone, and I expect that from them.”

Montana and Santa Clara combined for just four hits through the first five innings of the opener, as Montana senior Colleen Driscoll squared off against Santa Clara freshman Lauren Anderson.

“I thought it was going to be about a 30-minute game,” said Meuchel. “Everyone was striking the ball early. There wasn’t a lot going on for either team.

“But we hung with it, and when you do that, something is going to fall.”

For Montana that came in the top of the sixth, when freshman Brooklyn Weisgram, who started both games in right field, led off with her first collegiate hit, a double to center.

Freshman Kylie Becker, a two-game starter at third base, reached on an error and would later score the game’s first run when sophomore Lexie Knauss singled to center.

All three of Montana’s runs scored against Santa Clara were unearned, with the Broncos committing four errors in the game, but miscues can only occur when the other team puts balls in play and puts pressure on the defense.

Montana did, and Santa Clara wasn’t perfect. Advantage: Grizzlies.

“It’s one of those things, where we just want to give ourselves a chance as much as possible, and we did that,” said Meuchel.

“We put balls in play and hit balls hard that went right at people. I was pleased with the way we looked at the plate. I thought we had good approaches.”

Freshman Maygen McGrath, Montana’s starting shortstop and its cleanup batter both games, made it 2-0 in the top of the seventh when she scored on an infield error, and Weisgram made it 3-0 when her RBI groundout drove in sophomore Jessica McAlister, who had reached on a hit-by-pitch.

Driscoll allowed four hits in five innings. Sophomore Tristin Achenbach pitched the final two innings for her first career save. She had three strikeouts in the sixth and pitched a perfect seventh.

If the opener was a hard-earned victory, Montana left the second game feeling like it maybe gave one away.

The Grizzlies opened the scoring in the top of the first when McAlister drew another hit-by-pitch, this one with the bases loaded that brought in Knauss.

But the bases would remain loaded, three of eight base runners Montana would leave stranded in the game.

Senior Maddy Stensby was as good as Driscoll was in the opener, but she was still tagged with two runs in the bottom of the third.

She set the first two batters down. The next two would reach on infield singles. An infield error would allow the Aggies to tie it at 1-1, and they took the lead when the next batter singled to left.

“We went three errors back-to-back-to-back that allowed UC Davis to score,” said Meuchel. “Give them credit. They are a good team, but I felt like we allowed that game to get away from us a little bit.”

Three of the Aggies’ five hits came in the inning. They had just one over their final three innings of at-bats.

Montana stranded a runner at third in the fourth, put two on in the sixth, on a single by Stensby and a pinch-hit single by freshman McKenna Tjaden, and drew a leadoff walk in the seventh, but nothing came of the threats.

Stensby struck out four in five innings. Sophomore Michaela Hood pitched a 1-2-3 sixth.

“There was some newness to some of the things today that I don’t think we’ll see very often. I think we’ll grow from it,” said Meuchel. “As a whole, I think there are a lot of good things to come.”

Montana is scheduled to play UC Santa Barbara at 10:30 a.m. (MT) and UC Davis at 1 p.m. (MT) on Saturday.

On Sunday, the Grizzlies will shift venues and take on Cal State Bakersfield at 10:30 a.m. (MT) on Sacramento State’s home field.