The Montana softball team’s NCAA tournament debut didn’t begin as hoped, as No. 6 Washington used an eight-run third inning to post an 8-0, five-inning victory over the Grizzlies on Friday night on opening day of the Seattle Regional at Husky Softball Stadium.
Washington starter Taran Alvelo allowed just two base runners over five innings and didn’t give up a hit to pick up her 29th win of the season.
The Huskies will play Michigan, a 3-1 winner over Fresno State, on Saturday afternoon as the three-day, double-elimination regional continues. The Grizzlies and Bulldogs will play at 5:30 p.m. (MT) in a loser-out game.
Montana’s NCAA debut came on a night Washington would win its 100th tournament game.
“This was our team’s first try at this. We just kind of played inning by inning and got the experience we could get,” said coach Jamie Pinkerton. “I was really proud of the way we competed.”
Pinkerton matched Alvelo with his own ace in Michaela Hood, and though the freshman allowed base runners in the first and second innings, she worked out of both jams and took a scoreless tie into the bottom of the third.
Ali Aguilar led off the inning with a single through the left side, and Sis Bates moved her to second with a sacrifice bunt. Then came the play of the game.
Hood got Washington’s most dangerous hitter, Casey Stangel, to ground one to first baseman Ashlyn Lyons, who had just three errors on the season before the ball was hit her way.
With part of her focus on Aguilar at second, Lyons misplayed a ball one step to her right, which put runners at first and third with one out.
Morganne Flores followed with an RBI double, Taylor Van Zee added a two-run triple, and just like that the Huskies led 3-0, which was the end of Hood’s night.
“I’m sure there were some butterflies tonight, but I thought we were loose,” said Pinkerton. “We had an uncharacteristic error by Ashlyn, but I’ll take her every day of the week.”
Colleen Driscoll replaced Hood, which should allow Hood, who threw only 47 pitches, to start Saturday’s game against Fresno State. Driscoll got the first batter she faced to ground back to the circle. Without the error, that out would have ended the inning.
Given extra chances, Washington took advantage. The Huskies would send 12 batters to the plate in the inning and score eight runs on eight hits. Six turned out to be unearned.
Driscoll was replaced later in the inning by Maddy Stensby.
“It was one bad inning. Outside of that, it was 0-0, but that’s something we have to get better at when we’re playing a Power 5 team,” said Pinkerton. “You can’t make mistakes, you can’t chase pitches, you can’t misplay a ground ball. It’s a learning experience.”
The 8-0 lead after three was more than enough for Alvelo, who wasn’t overpowering — Montana made good contact on a number of at-bats — but she struck out eight and let her defense do the rest.
“It’s an awesome feeling to know my defense has my back no matter what,” the sophomore right-hander said. “It takes a big weight off my shoulders to know I can do what I need to do and let the ball be put in play.”
Alvelo put down the first eight batters she faced before Anne Mari Petrino drew a two-out walk in the top of the third. A groundout left Petrino stranded.
Montana’s only other base runner came in the fifth, when leadoff batter Sydney Stites was hit by a pitch. But Alvelo struck out Madison Saacke, forced Alex Wardlow into an infield fly out, then ended the game with a strikeout of pinch hitter Morgan Johnson.
“I thought we were a little overly aggressive early,” said Pinkerton. “Alvelo had a good rise ball and a good up pitch, and we were chasing a little bit.”
Stensby ended Washington’s scoring in the third by getting Stangel to foul out to shortstop Delene Colburn down the left-field line. Stensby also pitched a hitless fourth.
“We kind of got on our heels in that third inning, and we could have lost our composure, but we didn’t. I’m really proud of the way our team competed tonight,” said Pinkerton. “They won’t ever give up, and they didn’t tonight.”
Alvelo threw 78 pitches and finished her first collegiate no-hitter with eight strikeouts, plus four fly outs and three groundouts.
Hood took the loss to drop to 18-6 on the year. Both earned runs were charged to her.
“Montana’s coaches are very well experienced, so that program has a lot going for it, but the players on the team, it’s their first time,” said Washington coach Heather Tarr. “What a great opportunity for them as they build their program.”