(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
The Montana softball team’s season came to an end in heartbreaking fashion on Saturday with a 7-6 walk-off loss to Southern Utah on the final day of the Big Sky Conference Championship in Ogden, Utah.
The Grizzlies (19-30) out-hit the Thunderbirds 15-4 and left 14 runners stranded on base but still needed to rally from a 4-0 deficit after two innings.
Montana scored one in the fourth, three in the fifth and two more in the sixth to tie it, and had the go-ahead run in scoring position with one out in the seventh.
The Grizzlies were unable to plate the runner, which left the door open for Southern Utah to win it in the bottom of the seventh.
With runners on first and third and two outs, Montana starter Tristin Achenbach, who threw 159 pitches on Saturday, 586 in the tournament, forced a ground ball, but the Grizzlies could not convert the force out at second base, which allowed the winning run to score.
The Thunderbirds advance to the championship series, where they will face Portland State and need to win twice to claim the title.
Achenbach threw four complete games on Thursday and Friday and didn’t have her usual control on Saturday because of it.
She walked four batters in the bottom of the first and hit another as Southern Utah jumped out to an early 3-0 lead despite getting only one hit, a two-out fly ball to left that was lost in the sun and dropped for a two-run double.
Achenbach needed 47 pitches to get through the opening inning.
After another eventful inning in the second, which left Southern Utah with a 4-0 lead, Achenbach settled in and Montana started hitting.
The Grizzlies scored once in the fourth, then three times in the fifth on six hits, all singles. But they also left the bases loaded, which was a common theme throughout the game.
Montana left at least one runner on base every inning, 14 for the game, with the bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings.
Achenbach gave up solo home runs in the fourth and fifth innings as Montana fell behind 6-4, but the Grizzlies tied it with two in the top of the sixth.
After Achenbach worked a perfect bottom of the sixth, Maygen McGrath, who extended her hitting streak to 19 games, a new program record, led off the seventh win a single to center.
Cami Sellers sacrificed McGrath into scoring position with one out, but Montana was unable to bring her around.
Achenbach walked the first two batters in the bottom of the seventh, then got a fielder’s choice out at second, leaving runners on first and third with one out.
She struck out former Griz teammate Reilly Williams for a huge second out. Then came the fateful grounder to short that was handled cleanly, but the ball, which arrived in time for the force out, was dropped.
It was a stunning end to what was an impressive tournament run by Montana.
The Grizzlies batted .378 over five games, out-hitting their opponents 56-26. Achenbach, who threw 33 2/3 innings, had a tournament ERA of 2.91 and recorded 26 strikeouts to finish her career with 396, a new program record.
Montana went 1-1 on Thursday to open the tournament before getting a pair of wins on Friday to stay alive and advance to Saturday's game against Southern Utah.
Julie Phelps went 3 for 3 against the Thunderbirds, McGrath, Kylie Becker, Anna Toon and Jessica McAlister all had two hits.