Montana softball: Trio of Grizzlies named All Big Sky

By GoGriz.com

Three players from the Montana softball team, which finished second behind Weber State in the league standings and will take the No. 2 seed into this week’s tournament, were named All-Big Sky Conference on Wednesday following voting by the conference coaches earlier in the week.

Senior third baseman Bethany Olea and freshman pitcher Michaela Hood were first-team selections, while junior shortstop Delene Colburn, despite being one of three players in the discussion for Player of the Year honors, was voted second team.

Junior catcher Madison Saacke, junior first baseman Ashlyn Lyons and junior second baseman Gabby Martinez received honorable-mention accolades for the team that finished the regular season with a Big Sky-leading 32 wins.

Idaho State’s Kacie Burnett, who led the Big Sky in batting average at .463, was voted Player of the Year.

Hood, who ranked second in the Big Sky in ERA, wins and strikeouts, was nominated for both Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year, but those awards went to North Dakota’s Kaylin VanDomelen and Weber State’s Takesha Saltern, with plenty of justification.

VanDomelen led the Big Sky in ERA at 1.79, more than half a run better than any other league pitcher, and strikeouts, with 162, one more than Hood. Saltern, the pesky leadoff hitter for the Big Sky’s top offensive team, led the league in hits and runs scored while batting .461.

Idaho State’s Haley Harrison, a transfer from Utah Valley, and Southern Utah’s Sarah Murphy, who joined the Thunderbirds from California Baptist, shared Newcomer of the Year honors.

It was the second consecutive year earning first-team honors for Olea, who batted .408 as a junior and has upped that to .419 as a senior to rank third in the league. Combined with her Big Sky-leading 33 walks, Olea has the league’s best on-base percentage of .526.

Montana’s No. 3 hitter in the lineup ranks second behind Saltern in the Big Sky in hits and runs scored, and has struck out just eight times this season in 160 at-bats. Olea, who has a .948 fielding percentage at the hot corner, had a program-record 17-game hitting streak during the season.

Through Montana’s first month of the season, Hood was a freshman trying to adjust to pitching at the collegiate level. In mid-March, she had a middling 2-2 record and 3.39 ERA, and had only a handful more strikeouts (35) than she did walks (22).

Then everything changed. Since Montana returned home that month for the Grizzly Classic, Hood has been mostly electric, oftentimes overpowering, and has evolved into the program’s ace, the go-to pitcher for games one and three during Big Sky series.

She has won 14 of her last 17 decisions, and since pitching Montana to a 4-3 victory over Seattle at home on March 17, she has 126 strikeouts against just 27 walks, with a program-record 13 Ks against Northern Colorado on April 14.

Her 103 strikeouts in 15 league appearances exactly matched the hits (81) and walks (22) allowed in those games.

Hood takes a 15-5 record into the postseason, her 15 wins a new single-season program record and second in the league behind the 17 of Weber State’s Kirtlyn Bohling. Her 2.30 ERA and 161 strikeouts rank second in the Big Sky behind only VanDomelen.

Colburn, the Big Sky’s most productive hitter and one of the league’s most feared batters, was voted second team for the second straight year, this time behind Northern Colorado’s Erica Dick, the only first-team selection whose school won’t be playing in this week’s tournament.

Colburn leads the Big Sky in RBIs with 56, 10 more than any other player, a reflection of her ability to come up big in key moments. While her teammates have batted .250 this season with runners in scoring position, Colburn is hitting .426.

At .401, she is one of just four players, along with Burnett, Saltern and Olea, all first-team selections, to have a batting average better than .400.

Her 14 home runs, a career high, are tied for the league lead with Sacramento State’s Suzy Brookshire, and she leads the Big Sky in doubles (18), total bases (127) and slugging percentage (.784) while ranking in the top five in the league in five other categories.

Lyons earned honorable-mention All-Big Sky honors for the second straight year, while Saacke, in her first year as Montana’s mostly full-time catcher, and Martinez were recognized for the first time.

Lyons has gone 9 for 15 the last four games to inch her batting average (.302) above .300 for the first time this season, and she has a stellar .993 fielding percentage at first base, with just three errors on the season while starting 53 of 54 games.

Saacke is batting .250, but she has shown a propensity toward making those hits count. Her 19 hits in 21 league games have driven in 15 runs. She also doesn’t have an error since the start of Big Sky play and has just one all season in 39 starts behind the plate.

Martinez, who has started all 54 games at second base, is batting a career-best .269. She started the season hitting in the No. 9 spot, but she’s been in the leadoff position since MaKenna McGill‘s season-ending injury on March 17. She has just six errors on the season in nearly 200 chances.

Montana opens the Big Sky tournament in Ogden, Utah, on Thursday with a game at 5 p.m. against either No. 3 Sacramento State or No. 6 Idaho State.