The Montana softball team used the arm of Michaela Hood and the bat of Delene Colburn to open its weekend series against Northern Colorado with a sweep of a doubleheader on Friday afternoon at Grizzly Softball Field in Missoula, winning 1-0 and 9-4.
Hood threw a one-hit, complete-game shutout in the opener, striking out 13 to break the program record of 12 she set three weeks ago in a 2-0 blanking of North Dakota.
In game two, Colburn matched her career high with six RBIs. She ripped a three-run home run into a stiff headwind in the first and broke the game open in the fourth when her bases-loaded double brought in three more.
The sweep gives Montana (23-19, 8-3 BSC) a four-game winning streak and keeps the Grizzlies atop the Big Sky Conference by a half a game over Weber State, which won twice at home on Friday against Portland State.
Montana, which went up 1-0 in the bottom of the second on an RBI single to left field by Ashlyn Lyons, was in a one-run game in the opener, but it lacked the tenseness of most one-run games.
That’s because Hood, who improved to 11-4 and dropped her ERA to 2.08, was in complete command. Emily Holtz’s infield single in the third was the only hit of the game for the Bears (16-28, 4-7 BSC).
“I felt like I was in control the whole time. Even if I walked someone or they got a hit, I wasn’t frazzled by it,” said Hood, who had no idea after the game that she had struck out 13.
“That’s actually a surprise. I was just going through the motions of the game, and everything was working.”
Hood struck out the side in the second and third innings, and put Northern Colorado down in order in four of the first six innings, with a walk in the first and an infield single and a walk in the third the only base runners through the first six innings.
Hood, as pitchers tend to do, gets the credit, but she points to the effectiveness of the three-person battery: the pitcher, the catcher, in this case Madison Saacke, and pitching coach Melanie Meuchel.
“Her pitch calls were really good. She worked in a lot of my movement pitches, and everyone else had my back. It wasn’t just me,” said Hood.
As has been a regular occurrence for Montana, the Grizzly batters didn’t do their pitchers any favors at the plate in the opener. The first inning ended with the bases loaded, the second with a pair of runners left on.
In fact, all six innings ended with at least one runner on base. And like Sunday, when Montana escaped Sacramento State with a pair of tense 3-2 wins, the Grizzlies created a lot more drama in the seventh than was probably necessary.
Leadoff batter Jordan Wiatrak opened the inning getting hit by Hood, putting the tying run on base with nobody out. Hood struck out the next two batters, but pinch hitter Kelli Kleis extended the inning with a grounder to Gabby Martinez at second that the Grizzlies couldn’t turn into a force out at second.
That gave Northern Colorado, which leads the Big Sky in home runs, a runner at second for just the third time in the game.
“The fan base may have felt pretty good about it, but in the back of my mind I was thinking how this team leads the league in home runs,” coach Jamie Pinkerton said. “You’re just a walk, bloop and bomb away from being down 3-1.”
Hood finished it by forcing a groundout to Bethany Olea at third for an unassisted putout to end the game, Hood’s third shutout and 10th complete game of the year.
Of Northern Colorado’s 21 outs, 13 came by strikeout. The Bears also had six groundouts and two flyouts.
“Whenever you have 13 Ks and only have to field six balls, you have a pretty good chance of winning,” said Pinkerton. “Michaela did a great job.”
Colburn, who hit .556 in the three-game series at Sacramento State last weekend, made sure there would be no late-inning drama in game two.
Her three-run home run in the bottom of the first, her first home run since March 21, put Montana up early. It came into the teeth of a stiff wind that was blowing in from left field.
“She threw me that pitch previously, so I was looking for it. Then I just really put all my power behind it,” Colburn said.
Northern Colorado, which got shut out twice earlier in the week at Colorado State, broke a streak of 24 consecutive scoreless innings when Wiatrak hit a three-run home run to straightaway center to tie it 3-3 in the top of the third.
The deadlock lasted until the bottom of the fourth, when Colburn came up with the bases loaded. She hit one to nearly the same spot as Wiatrak, but it came up two feet short of clearing the fence. It did, however, clear the bases and put Montana up for good, 6-3.
“It’s extremely important to execute in those situations,” said Colburn. “When there are people in scoring position, that’s what goes through my head. Execute and get them home.”
Her 4-for-4 effort upped her batting average to a team-leading .405.
“I’m just really looking for the ball and looking for my pitch,” she said. “That’s what I’ve been focusing on. Being a yes-no hitter, seeing it until it’s a ball. That’s what I’ve been working on.”
Madison Saacke‘s RBI double later in the fourth inning scored Colburn and made it 7-3.
The only player who didn’t have a hit for Montana in game two was Olea, whose .400 average gives her nothing to apologize for.
“She’s allowed an 0-fer once in a while,” said Pinkerton, who has started McKenzie Phillips in left the last four games. She came through with a 2-for-3 performance in game two hitting in the No. 9 position, as spots six through nine in the lineup accounted for six of Montana’s 13 hits.
“Nine of the 10 players we sent to the plate had hits, so the whole lineup hit,” said Pinkerton. “Philly kind of set the table at the bottom of the lineup, which got the top going, and Del had the big hits when we needed them.”
Colleen Driscoll got the start in game two but was pulled in the third after surrendering the three-run home run, then following that with a walk.
Maddy Stensby pitched the final 4.2 innings, allowing one run and three hits, to pick up her third win of the season.
The teams will play the final game of their three-game series at 1 p.m. on Saturday.