(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)
SACRAMENTO, CA – Put in a win-or-go-home situation after dropping its opening game of the Big Sky Conference Championship on Wednesday, the Montana softball team responded with an 11-5 victory over Portland State on Thursday afternoon as the tournament continued at Sacramento State.
The Grizzlies pounded out 15 hits and scored five runs in the third, four more in the fourth to take control against a Vikings team that was coming off a 21-inning day on Wednesday.
One day after being limited to four hits and getting shut out for only the second time in its last 30 games, Montana had six players post two-hit games. The Grizzlies had four extra-base hits, two of which were home runs, back-to-back shots in the fourth.
Any would have come in handy on Wednesday, when Montana went hitless with runners in scoring position and lost 1-0 to Northern Colorado
“Success in championship play comes down to taking advantage of opportunities given, whether it’s offensively or defensively,” said coach Melanie Meuchel. “You don’t have to play perfect. You just have to take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of you.”
Against the Vikings, Montana went 11 for 22 with runners on base, 7 for 16 with runners in scoring position and batted .395 overall.
“We talked before the game about who we are what we do well. I say it all the time, I really believe in this team and their grit and determination,” said Meuchel.
“They are competitive and want to play well. People really stepped up offensively today and drove in some runs. It got contagious.”
Montana left two on base in a scoreless top of the first and loaded the bases in the second with one out. After a fielder’s choice force out at home for the second out, one of the game’s big moments arrived.
On a 2-2 pitch from PSU starter Serafine Parrish, Lexi Knauss hit one to left that nearly cleared the fence. She got a double out of it and drove in two. She also gave the Grizzlies their first hit of the tournament with runners in scoring position.
“It was a major impact. Not only was it a hit, it was a very well-hit ball. It let us relax and settle in and not feel like we had to force things,” said Meuchel. “When we settle in, we’re much better.”
That gave Montana a 2-1 lead, but it would be short-lived. An infield error in the bottom of the second extended the inning and allowed Portland State to build a 4-2 advantage.
Then came the top of the third, when Montana answered Portland State’s three-run inning by erupting for seven hits. Six of them went for singles, almost all of them coming in succession after an out to open the inning.
When the final run had crossed home plate, Montana led 7-4, and the Grizzlies would never look back.
“That was a big sign of who we are and what we take pride in. It kind of confirmed that we were here to play and that it was going to be a battle,” said Meuchel.
The fourth? That was just fun.
Katie Pippel hit a three-run home run, her second of the season and first since Feb. 22, to make it 10-4. One batter later Brooklyn Weisgram matched it, bombing one over the scoreboard just left of dead center, and Montana led 11-4.
Portland State’s three runs in the bottom of the second, all unearned, were tagged on starter Maddy Stensby, who was relieved after 1 2/3 innings by fellow senior Colleen Driscoll.
Driscoll allowed just one run over the final 5 1/3 innings to pick up win No. 10 on the season. “Colleen came in and did a good job keeping them pretty quiet,” said Meuchel.
Montana’s 7-8-9 batters, the all-freshman trio of Maygen McGrath, Pippel and Weisgram, combined to go 6 for 12. They drove in seven and scored eight times.
Kylie Becker, Cami Sellers and Jessica McAlister also had two-hit games.
Montana will play Sacramento State on Friday at 2:30 p.m. (MT), by which point the tournament will be down to four teams.
Weber State and Northern Colorado meet on Thursday evening for a spot in the championship game. The winner of that game won’t play again until championship Saturday.