The Montana softball team opened its fall exhibition season with a pair of wins Saturday afternoon at Grizzly Softball Field in Missoula, downing MSU Billings 15-0 and North Idaho 10-4.
In the opener, the Grizzlies scored five runs in the fourth, the big blow a three-run home run from senior Delene Colburn, and added eight runs on 10 hits in the sixth to break the game open.
The second game was closer than the final score suggests. The teams were tied 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth inning when freshman Savanna Voyles came to the plate with two outs and two runners on base.
Her double over the right fielder drove in what would be the game-winning run.
Senior Gabby Martinez, 4 for 7 on the day, followed with a two-run single up the middle to make it 7-4. Montana scored three more runs in the bottom of the seventh, the half inning played out despite the outcome already decided.
“I think any time you can be challenged and see what you have as a team during the fall, it’s beneficial,” said interim head coach Melanie Meuchel of the win over the Cardinals. “We stayed confident in what we were doing and stayed relaxed instead of pressing when we got deep into a tie game.”
In Montana’s win over MSU Billings, 10 players had at least one base hit, with Colburn and senior Ashlyn Lyons both going 3-for-4. Colburn drove in four and scored three times. Lyons scored twice and drove in two.
Senior Madison Saacke, the game-one starter at catcher, drove in three, with a sacrifice fly in the first and a two-run triple to right in the sixth.
Junior Maddy Stensby got the start and worked out of two-on, two-out jam in the top of the first with a strikeout. From there she and freshman Tristan Achenbach held MSUB in check.
Stensby allowed just one hit over the next three innings. Achenbach pitched the final three innings, allowing three hits while striking out three.
“There is always that first-inning excitement, and I think we had a little bit of that today,” said Meuchel. “But it didn’t take long for Stensby to settle in and set the tone for us defensively.”
Montana wasted little time getting on the scoreboard. A pair of walks in the bottom of the first put two runners on base for Lyons, who was batting cleanup. Her single to right made it 1-0, and Saacke put the Grizzlies up 2-0 with a sacrifice fly.
Montana had just two hits through the first three innings, then got the bats going in the fourth. Martinez and sophomore Anne Mari Petrino, who combined to go 5-for-6 against the Yellowjackets, had back-to-back hits. They were able to jog home on Colburn’s home run.
The Grizzlies sent 13 batters to the plate in the sixth. When the third out was finally recorded, eight runs had been scored.
“Everyone kind of fed off each other. We had some frenzy hitting,” said Meuchel.”
Montana’s three freshman hitters — Voyles, Jessica McAlister and Alexis Knauss — all entered the game and had hits in the sixth inning. McAlister had an infield single, Voyles doubled to left center, and two batters later Knauss also doubled to left center.
“The freshmen did well. Our upperclassmen have led them these first three weeks, and that’s helped ease them in. They know everyone is here to support them,” said Meuchel.
Montana’s second game was tight from the start, when North Idaho, which defeated MSU Billings 7-6 in the day’s first game, scored a run on three hits in the first inning off senior starter Haley Young.
The Cardinals added three more runs on three hits in the third to retake the lead after Tori Lettus had put the Grizzlies up in the bottom of the second with a two-run home run.
Lyons drove in Colburn in the bottom of the third with a double to center that evened the score at 4-4.
It stayed that way into the bottom of the sixth, thanks to the appearance of sophomore Michaela Hood in the circle in the fourth inning. She threw four innings of one-hit relief to give her team a chance to finally break out in the sixth.
With one out, Lettus singled to center, followed by a Saacke single through the left side. A strikeout brought Voyles to the plate with two on and two outs.
Looking calm and confident, she ripped one to the right-field fence for the game-winning RBI.
She finished the day 2 for 4, with two extra-base hits. McAlister was 2 for 3 with two runs scored, and Knauss went 1 for 2 with two RBIs against MSU Billings, then came on in the bottom of the seventh against North Idaho and led off the inning with a mad dash from home to home, thanks to two errors.
Colburn and Lyons, Montana’s No. 3 and 4 hitters in both games, combined to go 9 for 14, with seven RBIs and six runs scored.
Montana will host Carroll Sunday afternoon. The doubleheader starts at 1 p.m.