(Story by Griz Communications)
The Montana softball team dropped both games of a doubleheader to Idaho State on Saturday afternoon at Grizzly Softball Field as the Grizzlies opened their Big Sky Conference schedule.
The Bengals (13-16, 4-0 BSC), who extended their winning streak to six games, won the opener 3-2 as freshman pitcher Autumn Pease outdueled Montana senior Colleen Driscoll.
Aubrey Creekmore’s bat was the difference in Game 2. She had a two-run home run in the first inning and another two-run shot in the fifth as Idaho State cruised to a 6-1 victory.
The Bengals, currently tied atop the league standings with Weber State as the Big Sky’s only two unbeatens, could take over sole possession of first place on Sunday when the series concludes.
Pease came into the series as the reigning Big Sky Pitcher of the Week, and she didn’t take long making a first impression on Montana (10-23, 0-2 BSC), striking out the side in the bottom of the first.
She would finish the day with nine strikeouts and no earned runs allowed.
Driscoll wasn’t as dominant but was just as effective, allowing six hits in six innings pitched.
The teams traded runs in the third, with Idaho State scoring first on a single, sacrifice bunt, RBI single combination.
Montana answered in the bottom half of the inning, starting with a Lexi Knauss one-out triple. With two outs, Cami Sellers lifted a high fly ball that took Idaho State’s centerfielder to the fence. She would drop it for an error, allowing Knauss to score and giving Pease her first unearned run.
The Bengals scored the same way in the fourth — single, sacrifice, RBI single — to go up 2-1. The Grizzlies struck back in the fifth on a Sellers RBI single to center that scored Knauss from second.
The deciding run came in the seventh, with Idaho State facing Maddy Stensby, who was on in relief of Driscoll.
Stensby set down the first two batters she faced, but an infield error extended the inning. MaKenzie Van Sickle accounted for the winning run when she lifted a short fly ball to center that found an opening.
Haley Harrison scored what would be the winning run all the way from first as Pease shut down Montana in order in the bottom of the seventh to improve to 7-2 on the year.
Knauss and Kylie Becker both had two hits for Montana.
Idaho State took any drama out of the second game when the Bengals scored four runs in the top of the first.
Shayna Dahlen had a two-run double to open the scoring. One batter later, Creekmore made it 4-0, which would be plenty of run support for ISU starter Mariah Mulcahy, who allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings of work.
Montana had its chances to get back into the game but came up empty both times.
The Grizzlies had the bases loaded with nobody out in the bottom of the third when Mulcahy uncorked a wild pitch. Kylie Hayton broke from home but was tagged out by a covering Mulcahy.
The next batter, Weisgram, hit a grounder to third. Again a Montana player was thrown out at the plate. The inning ended on the same play, as Weisgram was thrown out trying to advance to second.
Montana’s lone run of the game would come in the sixth, as Sellers led off with a double to left-center. Jessica McAlister later drove her in with a double down the left-field line, the only earned run allowed by Idaho State pitchers in 14 innings.
Mulcahy would later walk two batters to load the bases with one out, signaling the end of her day. Kelsea Sweeney came in and ended the threat with a strikeout and groundout.
Sellers and Hayton both had two hits for the Grizzlies, who left nine runners on base.
Tristin Achenbach got the start for Montana and only made it through 18 pitches and one-third of an inning. She was relieved by Stensby in the top of the first with the score 4-0.
Stensby allowed five hits and two runs in 6 2/3 innings of long relief.
The teams will play the series finale on Sunday at 1 p.m.