Griz Softball Gets Program's First-Ever Big Sky Conference Tourn - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Griz Softball Gets Program's First-Ever Big Sky Conference Tournament Bid

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The Montana Grizzly softball team clinched a spot in the Big Sky Conference Tournament on Saturday, sweeping both games of a doubleheader against North Dakota to improve to 11-6 in the Big Sky and 24-24 overall.

Montana 5, North Dakota 4 (12 innings)

It took 12 innings and an unlikely hero for the Grizzlies to finally find a way to separate themselves from North Dakota and clinch a spot in the Big Sky conference tournament.

Colleen Driscoll had pitched just 14 innings entering Saturday, but the freshman came on in relief and threw 9.1 innings, the most by a Grizzly pitcher this season.

In relief of Maddy Stensby, Driscoll struck out six batters and allowed just seven hits and zero runs in her 10th appearance of the season.

“Colleen saved the day,” coach Jamie Pinkerton said. “She came in, threw strikes and kept getting people out. She kept us in the ball game and we were able to scratch out a win. With everything that she has been through to get to where she’s at today, she saved the day and it was a well deserved win.”

Montana snagged a commanding early lead, scoring four runs in the top of the second inning. The Griz loaded the bases thanks to a North Dakota error and two walks, and Mercedes Bourgeau brought home the first run with a single to center.

MaKenna McGill and Sydney Stites followed up later with a pair of singles, giving the Grizzlies a 4-0 advantage after the second inning, but the lead wouldn’t last long.

North Dakota answered in the second, honing in on Stensby for four runs on three hits. After a two-run homer from Kaylin VanDomelen made it 4-4, coach Pinkerton brought in Driscoll.

The pitchers on both sides held control through much of the game, but North Dakota had a chance in the sixth. A leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt put a runner on second with two outs. Natalie Gerber then singled, putting runners on the corners, but Driscoll picked up the third out to avoid any damage.

A couple of runners reached base in the bottom of the seventh as well, but Driscoll struck out the final batter of the inning to send the game to extras.

Montana nearly took the lead in the 10th inning, which McGill led off with a single. A walk by Lexie Brenneis put two on and one out, but back-to-back infield ground balls ended the opportunity.

Driscoll, working into her ninth inning, gave up a hit to lead off the bottom of the 11th. An error put runners on second and third, which forced the Grizzlies to intentionally walk VanDomelen.

“She had hit a two-run home run earlier in the game and we were in a portion of the order where we needed to set a force out at the plate. It was just a situation where she had a good game, and we just weren’t going to let their best hitter beat us.”


The move paid off, as Driscoll forced a grounder to Delene Colburn that the shortstop went home with to cut down a run. Megan Keegan pinch hit, but Driscoll forced a fly out to center to escape the bases loaded jam.

McGill, who recorded three of Montana’s eight hits, led off the 12th with a double. The next two Grizzly batters went down in order, and it looked like North Dakota would escape, but an error by the shortstop put Colburn on base and scored McGill, giving Montana a 5-4 lead heading into the bottom of 12.

Meggie Reitz entered to pitch for Montana, walking the first two batters of the inning. Pinkerton quickly went to Sara Stephenson, who forced a groundout and then a foul pop out that Ashlyn Lyons made a good play on. She then struck out the final batter of the game to save Montana’s 5-4 win.

“We put Meggie in and she ran into a little bit of trouble and Sara was able to come in and clean it up,” Pinkerton said. “Ashlyn made a nice play in foul territory and Sara came in and got the save.”

VanDomelen, who has the fourth best ERA in the Big Sky at 2.90, threw all 12 innings for North Dakota. The Grizzlies finished with eight hits, led by three from McGill and two from Stites, who also had two RBIs.

Montana improved to 7-4 in one-run games and 4-2 in games that head into extra innings. The longest game in Grizzly history shows that this team is ready for the final stretch.

“When you turn the corner and become a good team, I’m not saying we’ve turned that corner, but good teams win games like this and we did what we had to to win,” Pinkerton said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but this team grew today and I’m really proud of them.”

Montana 4, North Dakota 0

The drama of game one didn’t carry over, as the Grizzlies grasped the lead in the third inning and didn’t look back, riding a strong pitching performance by Sara Stephenson in the 4-0 win.

McGill, Brenneis and Colburn all singled to load the bases with one out, and the team-leader in walks Bethany Olea watched four balls go by to get Montana on the board. A wild pitch scored Brenneis from third, and a sacrifice fly from Ashlyn Lyons gave the Griz a 3-0 lead.

Stephenson was on cruise control after earning the save in game one, allowing multiple North Dakota base runners in only one inning, the fifth, where she struck out the final batter.

“She pounded the zone, stayed ahead in the count and scattered hits, and when you don’t allow a run you’re going to win ball games,” Pinkerton said.

Montana added another run on an RBI single from Sydney Stites in the seventh to win their 11th conference game of the season 4-0 and move into third place in the Big Sky.

“I think 10 wins is a pretty good cut-off point of getting in and that has been our mantra, 10 and we’re in, and we were able to get 10 and 11 in today and clinch a postseason berth,” Pinkerton said.

The Grizzlies improve to .500 on the season at 24-24, with an impressive 11-6 record in the Big Sky. They play North Dakota again tomorrow, and if they win that, they will play Big Sky leaders Weber State in Missoula with a mathematical chance to win the regular season conference championship. They are out to prove they are an upper echelon team in the Big Sky.

“Right now, we’re in the tournament and can finish middle of the pack and be the No. 3 or 4, but if the dominos fall right we can still win a conference championship. Are we going to challenge for championships or are we going to be middle of the pack? I think that’s the next step we have to take, but this is a fun bunch to watch play and if we make that next step, great, and if we don’t we’re gaining valuable experience.”

Montana Sports Information

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