The Montana softball team moved above .500 for the first time this season and into a tie for second place in the Big Sky Conference with an 8-3 victory over Southern Utah on Saturday afternoon at Grizzly Softball Field in Missoula.
Facing Kirsten Hostetler, who shut the Grizzlies (19-18, 4-2 BSC) out in Friday’s series opener with a complete-game two-hitter, Montana scored one in the first and five in the fourth to take control and win its second series through two weekends of league games.
At 4-2 in conference, the Grizzlies are tied for second with Idaho State. Both teams trail league leader Weber State, which finished off a home sweep of North Dakota on Saturday to improve to 4-1.
When Hostetler and Montana’s Michaela Hood faced off on Friday afternoon, the Grizzlies and Thunderbirds combined for just five hits, with Southern Utah winning 2-0 on a pair of unearned runs late in the game.
With both programs’ ace throwing again — Hood also threw two innings of relief in game two on Friday, a 5-2 Montana win — the teams had nearly that many hits in the first inning alone.
“When two kids pitch as many innings as they did this weekend, there is going to be some familiarity, but we made some adjustments too,” said coach Jamie Pinkerton. “We were a little more patient and willing to let the ball get deeper and try to drive it the other way.”
Montana equaled the two hits it had in Friday’s loss in just two at-bats on Saturday. Gabby Martinez, who would go 3 for 4 and match a career high with three RBIs, led off with a single up the middle, and Ashlyn Lyons followed with a single to first base.
Martinez advanced to third on the play and scored one batter later when Bethany Olea, who had her 17-game hitting streak come to an end on Saturday, lined out to shortstop. A play was made at first base to try to double off Lyons, but the throw was wide, allowing Martinez to open the scoring.
Southern Utah, which saw 15 innings worth of Hood in the series, got on the board in the third. The Thunderbirds had four singles in the inning, as many hits as they had in nine innings off Hood on Friday, and turned them into a 2-1 lead.
“That familiarity was the same with them. They were able to touch up Hood a little bit today,” said Pinkerton.
After going down in order in the second and third, Montana finally got to Hostetler in the fourth.
Alex Wardlow singled up the middle to drive in Walker, and Martinez brought in Wardlow with a hit to left center.
It was the second straight start for Walker, who played catcher in game two on Friday and batted as the designated player on Saturday. She went 4 for 6 in the two games, with two runs batted in and two runs scored.
“I went up to Dani yesterday and told her I was putting her in the lineup. I said, ‘Make me write your name in the lineup.’ And she took the challenge and got two hits yesterday and two today,” said Pinkerton.
“She had the big hit today that gave us some momentum and gave us the lead. I just challenged her. She came through, and now she’s going to play Saturday in Sacramento.”
Montana scored eight runs on Saturday, and Olea, Colburn and Stites, batting third, fourth and fifth, didn’t drive in any of them. Most of the RBIs came from Walker and Wardlow, who batted seventh and eighth, and Martinez, who was batting leadoff.
“If the bottom of the order, plus Gabby and Ashlyn at the top, doesn’t come through, we maybe don’t win the game today,” said Pinkerton. “The bottom of the lineup came up big. It was good timing for them to come alive.”
Martinez drove in two more in the bottom of the sixth with an opposite-field single with the bases loaded off Samantha Guile, who relieved Hostetler during Montana’s five-run fourth, to make it 8-2.
Southern Utah chased Hood in the top of the seventh after the Thunderbirds opened the inning with a walk and back-to-back singles to load the bases with nobody out.
Making her first appearance of the series, Colleen Driscoll allowed one runner to score on a fielder’s choice for the final run of the game. She got the final two outs on foul popups to Lyons at first base.
Hood collected the win to improve to 9-3.
Montana will play a three-game series at Sacramento State (12-17-1, 2-3 BSC) next weekend, with a doubleheader on Saturday and single game on Sunday. The Hornets, picked second in the preseason coaches’ poll, dropped two of three at home over the weekend to Idaho State.