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Griz softball: Montana sweeps doubleheader with Sac State

It was also the first time Montana has taken a series from Sacramento State, and Sunday’s wins that allowed that to happen came with plenty of drama. (GoGriz.com)

By GoGriz.com

Behind a pair of quality starts by Colleen Driscoll and Michaela Hood, the Montana softball team swept a doubleheader against Sacramento State on Sunday afternoon at Shea Stadium.

The Grizzlies (21-19, 6-3 BSC) won the opener 3-2 to pick up their first win at Sacramento State (13-20-1, 3-5 BSC) in five tries. They won the second game by the same score to move into first place in the Big Sky Conference with three of seven league weekends now complete.

It was also the first time Montana has taken a series from Sacramento State, and Sunday’s wins that allowed that to happen came with plenty of drama.

The leadoff batter reached base for the Hornets in the bottom of seventh in both games, and the tying or winning run was on the bases when the final out of each game was made.

“Ten years. Ten years has been taken off my life,” joked coach Jamie Pinkerton.

Driscoll (4-5) pitched into the seventh in the opener before being relieved by Maddy Stensby, who got Sacramento State’s top two hitters, Zamari Hinton and Suzy Brookshire, to fly out with runners on first and second for the final outs. It was Stensby’s third save of the season.

Hood took the loss on Saturday when Montana fell 5-3 in the series opener. She was back to her dominant self on Sunday, pitching a complete-game three-hitter while striking out nine.

She allowed the potential tying run to reach third base in the bottom of the seventh with one out, but coaxed a popup on a safety-squeeze bunt attempt and a groundout to shortstop for the final outs of the series to improve to 10-4 and drop her ERA to 2.21.

“The pitching staff did an excellent job this entire weekend, outside of one bad inning on Saturday,” said Pinkerton, whose pitchers allowed nine hits and just two earned runs in two games on Sunday. “I was real pleased with the pitching.

“It was definitely a huge road series win, with a lot of high drama and intensity. I think the team grew this weekend.”

Driscoll gave up an unearned run in the bottom of the first in the opener, then settled in and kept the Hornets off the board until they scored one more in the bottom of the seventh.

She got out of a second-and-third jam in the fourth inning by forcing a groundout back to herself, which helped preserve the 2-1 lead Montana took in the top of the third when Sydney Stitessingled with the bases loaded and two outs.

Montana added a big run in the top of the sixth to make it 3-1. Delene Colburn singled through the left side, and pinch runner Kylie Hayton scored from first on a double to left field by Madison Saacke.

Driscoll allowed a single to the leadoff batter in the seventh, and that runner would score on another single with one out, which sent Pinkerton to the mound to replace his starter with Stensby.

Stensby walked the first batter she faced to give Sacramento State runners at first and second with one out and the Hornets’ top two hitters due up. She got Hinton to fly out to left, Brookshire to fly out to center.

“After a tough loss (for the team) yesterday, Colleen came out today and gave us a steady start that allowed us to bounce back,” said Pinkerton.

Hood was touched up for six hits and four runs, only two of which were earned, on Saturday in 3.1 innings. She looked more like a two-time Big Sky Conference Pitcher of the Week in her start on Sunday.

Montana gave her a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Colburn singled home Ashlyn Lyons, who had doubled and then reached third on a Bethany Olea groundout.

Hood gave up the lead in the bottom of the first when she fielded a comebacker to the circle and lofted one over Lyons’ head at first, which led to an unearned run.

Saacke put Montana up 3-1 in the third when she drove in Lyons, who reached base when she was hit by a pitch, and Olea, who singled.

The Grizzlies could have made it a lot easier on themselves, on Hood and on Pinkerton had they come through at the plate. They stranded two runners in the fourth, two in the fifth and three more in the sixth when Stites grounded out with the bases loaded.

They stranded 11 runners in game two on Sunday, matching the number they stranded in the series opener on Saturday.

After allowing Hinton to make it 3-2 in the bottom of the third with a run-scoring double, Hood only allowed one base runner over the next three innings, setting up another drama-filled bottom of the seventh.

Hood walked the leadoff batter, who advanced to second on a passed ball charged to catcher Dani Walker. The Hornets moved the runner over with a sacrifice bunt, giving them the potential tying run at third base with one out.

Hood went high in the zone to force a popup to herself on an attempted safety squeeze for the second out. The final out came on a bouncer to Colburn.

“I think Michaela grew up even more today, and that’s going to be good for us,” said Pinkerton. “It was a high-stress game, and she never had a big lead at any point.

“She was a pitcher today. She didn’t have her best stuff, but she was able to overcome that and get the job done. She got the outs when she needed them.”

The victories on Sunday give Montana three series wins through three weekends of Big Sky games and have the Grizzlies a half game up on preseason favorite Weber State (5-3 BSC), which had one of its games at Sacramento State on the first league weekend of the season rained out.

Southern Utah (5-4 BSC) and Idaho State (4-4 BSC) are both one back in the loss column.

“We knew it was going to be tough this weekend,” said Pinkerton, who was 1-7 against the Hornets entering the weekend. “We were in a place that’s tough to play and going up against a team we haven’t played well against.

“We got the series win, and that’s huge. If we can continue winning them, we’ll be where we want to be in May.”

Montana will host Northern Colorado (16-24, 4-5 BSC), which took two of three at home over the weekend from Weber State, later this week at Grizzly Softball Field. The teams will play a doubleheader on Friday starting at 2:30 p.m. and a single game on Saturday at 1 p.m.