Late comeback gives Montana Grizzlies doubleheader sweep over Portland State

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

MISSOULA – The Montana softball team used seven extra-base hits in Game 1 and a nine-run inning to erase a five-run deficit in Game 2 to open its three-game series against Portland State with a pair of wins on Saturday afternoon at Grizzly Softball Field, 9-1 and 11-7.

Montana set a program record with four home runs in the opener, two coming off the red-hot bat of Cami Sellers, whose hitting streak is now up to a dozen games, and one each from Maygen McGrath and Lexi Knauss, whose three-run blast to center in the bottom of the sixth ended the game.

The Grizzlies (13-26, 3-5 BSC) faced a 7-2 deficit in the second game as the teams headed to the bottom of the sixth. Montana had just three hits to that point off Portland State starter Serafine Parrish.

The rally started innocently enough: an infield single off the pitcher’s glove by a pinch-hitting Morgan Johnson. By the time the inning was over, the Grizzlies had scored nine runs on nine hits off three Portland State pitchers.

It was the second-highest-scoring inning in program history and the comeback matched the third-largest deficit ever overcome in a victory.

The Grizzlies’ 11 runs in Game 2 were the most they’ve scored this season. The nine runs in Game 1 is the third-highest total this season.

“We went back to a lot of basic stuff this week and really tried to simplify some things,” said coach Melanie Meuchel, whose team lost twice at Sacramento State last weekend in back-to-back 10-inning games.

“We were close at Sac State but never put things away. It felt like we were getting away from who we are a little bit. When we play our own game, we have some talent and can do some good things. We had a plan and really applied it today. I’m really proud of the effort.”

For all the offensive fireworks provided by Montana’s bats, it’s easy to overlook the pitching performance of Colleen Driscoll in the opener. It shouldn’t be.

Facing a team that entered the day with a healthy .290 batting average and had scored 14 runs in two of its previous three games, Driscoll did what Driscoll does. She gave the Vikings (13-23, 2-5 BSC) plenty to swing at but not much to make solid contact with.

She only struck out one in working her third complete game of the season, but she didn’t walk anyone and allowed just six hits, five of which were singles. She did the heavy lifting while she relied on her teammates to finish off balls put in play. The Grizzlies had a single error.

“Colleen is always going to attack the zone, and we’ve tried to add a few things to what she does that I think will help her be even more effective as we move forward,” said Meuchel. “She really settled in and controlled things.”

After Lexi Knauss drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the first, Sellers followed with a shot to center for a home run that made it 2-0 off PSU starter Alyssa Burk.

It was one of the hardest-hit balls ever to leave a bat in the brief history of Grizzly Softball Field. And it set the tone for the day.

“She looks great right now at the plate. She has a great swing, and we’re still seeing her take strides forward,” said Meuchel. “When she comes up, you know you have a chance for something in the gap, something long, something hard.”

McGrath led off the fourth with a towering home run to left-center, her team-leading fourth of the season and first since Feb. 24. Sellers led off the fifth by launching one over the fence in right to make it 5-1 and match McGrath for the team lead in home runs.

Katie Pippel, denied her own home run to right in the fourth on a 50-50 call by the umpire that favored Portland State, led off the bottom of the sixth with a double. Kylie Becker followed with her own double to score Pippel and make it 6-1.

After Johnson drew a one-out walk, Knauss put an end to the game with a three-run home run to center, her second of the season.

Any momentum from that victory didn’t carry over to Game 2. Portland State struck in the top of the first with a run on three hits, and the Grizzlies went down in order in the first and second innings against Parrish.

The Grizzlies grabbed a brief 2-1 lead in the third on a two-out single to center by Sellers that extended her hitting streak to a dozen games, tied for the fourth-longest in program history, but the advantage wouldn’t last.

Portland State scored one in the fourth, three in the fifth and two more in the sixth off starter Tristin Achenbach and reliever Maddy Stensby to take a 7-2 lead into the bottom of the sixth.

“We didn’t come out strong at all in the second game, and things started getting away from us, but this team continues to believe in what this team is,” said Meuchel.

“We huddled before that inning and talked about what it is we pride ourselves on and what it was going to take to get it done. They always have a belief that they can do it.”

Montana opened the sixth with four consecutive hits, more than they had through the first five innings, and scored seven of their nine runs with two outs, after a pair of big-time plays by Portland State’s infield with the bases loaded forced out two Grizzlies at the plate.

McGrath tied it with a two-run double down the left-field line, Jessica McAlister made it 9-7 with a two-run single up the middle, and Kylie Becker made it 11-7 with a double off the fence in left-center, missing her first career home run by a couple feet.

Given the lead, Stensby worked a 1-2-3 seventh for her third win of the season, the first time all game the Vikings were set down in order.

After opening league 1-5, it wasn’t a must-win Saturday for Montana, but there was pressure to get something out of the doubleheader. The Grizzlies got one win, then another. They’ll go for the series sweep on Sunday at 1 p.m.

“Today was huge,” said Meuchel. “We played in a couple of gut-wrenching games at Sac State last weekend. I’m really proud that they’re getting some results for the work they’ve put into this program and the pride they play with.”

Derek Buerkle

Derek Buerkle

Derek has worked in sports at KPAX-TV in Missoula since 2007. He grew up in Big Timber, Montana, and attended the University of Montana journalism program.
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