Walk-off homer helps Montana Grizzlies sweep Northern Colorado

Posted at 9:46 PM, Apr 26, 2019

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

MISSOULA — Cami Sellers and Maddy Stensby were the showstoppers, but it was an all-cast production that led Montana to a pair of wins over Northern Colorado on Friday at Grizzly Softball Field in Missoula.

Sellers hit a walk-off, two-run home run in Game 1 as the Grizzlies rallied back from a 4-0 deficit to win 6-4, with two runs in the fifth, two in the sixth and two in the seventh.

In Game 2, it was Stensby inside the circle — she threw a five-hit complete game — and eight players collecting base hits as Montana won 4-2, a result more commanding than the score might suggest.

“There are 20 of us in that dugout, 16 of them players, and it’s going to take all 20 of us to win these games,” said coach Melanie Meuchel. “Everyone is in it right now.”

The win was the fourth in a row for Montana and improved the Grizzlies to 6-8 in Big Sky games. The wins improved the team’s positioning within the league standings but didn’t clinch anything. Far from it.

With only a handful of Big Sky games remaining — Saturday’s schedule, then next weekend’s games — only one of the six spots to the conference tournament has been claimed.

Weber State is in. The other six teams are still alive for the final five spots.

Even so, after Friday’s sweep Meuchel had a confident air about her as she worked on getting the pitching lane ready for Saturday’s finale. The vibe she gave off wasn’t about hoping her team makes the postseason. It was more about what she thinks it can do when it gets there.

“I’ve been saying this for a long time. I have a lot of confidence in this team. They are gritty, they fight, they compete, they give what you ask of them,” she said. “And they have each other’s back.

“They’re really starting to mesh as a true team. I think they have a lot of confidence in each other.”

Montana had just one hit off Northern Colorado starter Valerie Vidal through the first four innings in the opener and trailed 4-0 going into the bottom of the fifth, after the Bears got to Griz starter Colleen Driscoll for a three-run home run in the fourth and another run in the fifth.

If it was Stensby’s left arm that played a big role in Game 2, in Game 1 it was her bat.

She came to the plate as a pinch hitter with two on and two out in the bottom of the fifth and laced a single to right on a full-count pitch that gave Montana its first run of the series.

Sellers followed with an RBI double to left-center and the Grizzlies had new life, trailing 4-2.

“I really felt like it was Maddy Stensby’s hit that was the big moment,” said Meuchel. “Jessica (McAlister) opened the door with our first hit, but I thought it was Maddy’s hit that was critical for us to kind of release some stuff.”

Tristin Achenbach relieved Driscoll to start the sixth and worked a 1-2-3 inning, which allowed the momentum to remain in Montana’s dugout.

Katie Pippel tripled off the fence in center with one out in the bottom of the sixth, and Morgan Johnson followed with a game-tying home run to left, her third home run in the last 10 days.

Northern Colorado advanced the potential go-ahead run to second in the top of the seventh, but Achenbach wasn’t fazed. She ran a 3-2 pitch by the next batter for a strikeout to end the inning.

The seventh couldn’t have been scripted any cleaner. Kylie Becker led off with a single up the middle. Lexi Knauss put down a sacrifice bunt that moved Becker up a base. Four pitches later Sellers hit a home run to center.

It was Sellers’ sixth home run of the season, her fifth of the month.

Montana fell behind 1-0 in the top of the second in Game 2, but it would be all Grizzlies after that.

Pippel drove in Stensby in the bottom of the second to tie it, Lexi Knauss had a run-scoring single in the fourth, and Montana put it away with two runs in the fifth.

McAlister had an RBI double to left-center that made it 3-1. Maygen McGrath later came through with a hard-hit ball through the left side that made it 4-1.

That McGrath was batting in the No. 8 spot in the order, after spending most of the season hitting third or fourth, is part of the fluid nature of Meuchel’s lineup card.

Becker is four games into batting leadoff after spending much of the season in the bottom three spots, and Johnson, who only had 25 at-bats in all of February and March, got the nod in Game 2 at cleanup, and why not?

Meuchel’s approach isn’t about keeping people where they’re familiar. She just wants to win games. So it’s about putting hot bats in positions where they can do the most damage and trying to help anyone who might be struggling with a change in scenery while still keeping them in the lineup.

“It’s about trying to find people who are hot through the week and people who look great at the plate,” Meuchel said. “I’m just trying to make sure we’re putting people or groups together that are hot, that can push us through for some runs.

“And then there are people who might need a little more help, whether it’s down in the lineup, where they can see better pitches at times, or just trying to make everyone as comfortable as they can be without a lot of pressure.”

Stensby, so good six days earlier in a 2-1, eight-inning loss at Weber State, picked up where she left off.

After allowing three hits through the first two innings, she kept Northern Colorado hitless over the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings to pick up her 19th career win while throwing her 14th complete game.

The Bears scored their second run in the seventh.

For as deep as Montana showed itself to be in the opener, the Grizzlies didn’t use a pinch hitter, a pinch runner or a relief pitcher in Game 2. They just didn’t need it.

“It took the entire team and two pitchers to get Game 1 done,” said Meuchel.

“Stensby looked great in Game 2. They couldn’t get to her. And we looked comfortable at the plate, so we didn’t have to go to a lot of people, but I felt that at any time we could have put anybody in.”

Pippel, batting seventh, and Brooklyn Weisgram, batting ninth, both had a pair of hits in Game 2. Sellers’ double in the third gave her 21 for the season, which matches Delene Colburn’s program record from 2015.

The teams will play the final game of the series at 1 p.m. on Saturday.