The Montana softball team opened defense of its 2017 title with a 6-3 victory over Portland State on Thursday morning as the Big Sky Conference Championship opened in Ogden, Utah.
The fifth-seeded Grizzlies were sent to the bottom half of the tournament bracket in the afternoon, however, as No. 1 Sacramento State scored five first-inning runs and rolled to a 7-3 victory.
Montana will now face No. 3 North Dakota in a loser-out game at 9:30 a.m. on Friday. The Fighting Hawks lost their opening and only game on Thursday, falling 7-4 to No. 6 Northern Colorado.
North Dakota swept the regular-season series against Montana, taking all three games against the Grizzlies in Grand Forks while limiting Montana to a single run.
First-inning trouble was the story of the day for the Grizzlies, who allowed two early runs to the Vikings. Both were unearned and they did little to affect the unflappable Colleen Driscoll.
She struck out the side in the second and kept Portland State in check the rest of the game while waiting for Montana’s bats to come alive.
MaKenna McGill drove in Anne Mari Petrino in the third to make it 2-1, and Ashlyn Lyons hit her seventh home run of the season to lead off the fourth to tie it at 2-2.
The Grizzlies broke it open in the fifth, scoring four times on five hits, all of it coming after the first two batters in the inning were set down.
Lyons, Madison Saacke, Jessica McAlister, Alex Wardlow and Petrino each had a hit in the inning, with McAlister, Wardlow and Petrino driving in runs.
That’s all the cushion Driscoll would need to throw her sixth complete game of the season. She threw 95 pitches, striking out six, to even her season record at 8-8.
Montana pounded out a dozen hits, its second-highest total of the season. Lyons, Saacke, McAlister and Petrino all had multiple-hit games, with Saacke and Petrino combining to go 6 for 7.
Any momentum Montana had three hours after the victory was no match for the head of steam the Hornets brought into the championship’s third game of the day.
After Big Sky Pitcher of the Year Celina Matthias put Montana down in order in the top of the first, five of the first six batters Sacramento State sent to the plate in the bottom half of the inning scored.
The big hurt came from the bat of Sydnee Strong, whose grand slam made it 5-0.
Starter Maddy Stensby made it through just two-thirds of an inning before being replaced by Michaela Hood, who made her first appearance in nearly a month.
Tristin Achenbach threw the final four innings, giving up just four hits and one run, but the damage had been done.
Montana had just three hits off Matthias through five innings but got on the board in the sixth thanks to a two-out infield error that loaded the bases for Tori Lettus.
The senior, who was batting as the designated player, drove a double into the left-center gap to score three and give Montana its first runs in its last 17 innings against the Hornets.
Petrino had another multiple-hit game, singling in the third and fifth innings off Matthias to open the tournament 5 for 5. She grounded out in the sixth.
With the win, Sacramento State advanced to the final of the upper bracket and won’t play again until 2:30 p.m. on Friday against either Weber State or Northern Colorado.