SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Softball, at times, can be a game of inches and breaks, and Sacramento State was on the bad side of both today. In a doubleheader the Hornets could have easily swept, nothing seemed to go the home team's way as Montana won both games by 3-2 scores on Sunday afternoon at Shea Stadium.
A ball lost in the sun on a routine infield popup cost the Hornets the win in the first game, and a bang-bang call at first base that would have resulted in a tie game in the bottom of the seventh went against Sacramento State in the nightcap. And what could have been a series sweep by Sacramento State resulted in two of the more gut wrenching losses the Hornets have played at Shea Stadium.
The Hornets, who opened the series yesterday by defeating Montana, 5-3, fell to 13-20-1 overall and 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference after today's losses. Meanwhile, Montana improved to 21-19 overall and 6-3 in the conference. The Grizzlies entered the day 0-4 all-time against the Hornets in Sacramento.
Despite the losses, the eight-team Big Sky is still up for grabs as only 2.5 games separate the first and last place teams in the league standings. Montana now sits in first place with its 6-3 league record while both North Dakota and Sacramento State are tied for seventh with 3-5 conference marks.
Breaks have not gone the Hornets' way this season as the team is now 1-7 in one-run games, and each of the team's last three losses have come by just one run. Sacramento State, which received solid pitching today, did not help itself in clutch at-bats. In the two losses today, the Hornets were a combined 2-for-12 (.167) with runners in scoring position, 3-for-18 (.167) with two outs and 3-for-21 (.143) with runners on base. In addition, the Hornets saw Montana combine for five infield hits and an assortment of bloops that found the outfield grass.
The biggest play of the day took place in the first game with the Hornets nursing a 1-0 lead in the third inning. Montana had loaded the bases with two outs when starter Taylor Tessier made a perfect pitch to Sydney Stites on the first pitch of the at-bat. Stites hit a routine popup that Hornet shortstop Sydney Rasmussen lost in the sun. As the ball landed softly on the infield dirt, two Montana runners were able to come around to score. Instead of the inning coming to a close with a 1-0 Hornet advantage, the Grizzlies used the break to take a 2-1 lead.
Montana would push its lead to 3-1 in the sixth inning on a Madison Saacke RBI-double. In the bottom of the sixth with two outs and a runner at second base, Jessica Scott hit a ball that was caught at the wall by Montana left fielder McKenzie Phillips. The Hornets mounted a rally in the seventh inning as Marissa Maligad's one-out, RBI-single scored Nene Alas and the cut the deficit to 3-2. With a runner at first and one out, Montana inserted reliever Maddy Stensby into the game and she promptly walked Sydney Rasmussen to put runners at first and second. However, Stensby retired Zamari Hinton on a fly ball, and Suzy Brookshire on a deep fly ball to center field to end the game.
Colleen Driscoll (4-5) got the win, allowing six hits and two runs (one earned) in 6.1 innings. Stensby earned her second save of the season. Tessier (4-8) got the loss despite striking out a career-high 11 batters. She allowed just five hits and three hard-luck runs. Brookshire was the only player from either team with a multiple-hit game as she finished 2-for-4 with an RBI. First baseman Jessica Ravetti went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice and saw her career-high hitting streak of eight games come to a close.
After Montana opened the scoring in the top of the first inning with an RBI-single from Delene Colburn, the Hornets tied things in the bottom half of the inning after a wild pitch allowed Suzy Brookshire to score from third base.
The Grizzlies would take the lead for good in the top of the third when Saacke's two-out, perfectly placed bloop single allowed both Bethany Olea and Ashlyn Lyons to score. Sacramento State would get a run back in the bottom half of the inning after Hinton's one-out double scored Rasmussen from first base.
Neither team scored the final four innings. Montana starter Michaela Hood was impressive, allowing just one hit during the final four frames. Sacramento State threatened in the seventh as Scott drew a leadoff walk. Pinch runner Rylee Sager then advanced to second on a passed ball and was sacrificed to third base by Alas.
With one out, the Hornets' Shelby Johnston attempted a squeeze bunt, but popped the ball in the air to Hood for the second out. With Sager still at third base, Marissa Maligad hit a soft ground ball that Montana shortstop Colburn quickly fielded and threw to first base. The play resulted in a plethora of groans from the home crowd as Maligad was called out at first base on a play that could have been ruled either way. Had Maligad been called safe, Sager would have scored easily from third base to tie the game.
Hood (10-4) got the win, allowing just three hits and two runs (one earned) with two walks and nine strikeouts over seven innings. Celina Matthias (6-6) got the loss, allowing three runs and five hits in 2.2 innings. Hornet freshman Danielle Sperry was impressive in relief, allowing five hits with no runs in 4.1 innings. Of the five hits allowed, three were infield singles.
Hinton, Brookshire and Alas accounted for the Hornets' three hits. Lyons, Olea and Colburn each had multiple-hit games for Montana.
Sacramento State, which played its first three conference series of the season at home, will now play three of their final four Big Sky series on the road. The Hornets will play a three-game series next Friday and Saturday at North Dakota. The two teams will play a doubleheader on Friday at 1 p.m. PDT, followed by a single game on Saturday at 11 a.m. PDT.
NOTABLES -- Prior to the game, Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen and his wife, Jody, threw out the ceremonial first pitches…the Hornets participated in the on-campus Out of Darkness Walk for suicide prevention earlier this week, and Sacramento State wore their black uniforms for the first time all season…the Green Army and Sacramento State Athletics partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to fundraise for the campus-wide Out of the Darkness Walk…Hornet head coach Lori Perez and Green Army Coordinator Katy Richardson presented President Nelsen and his wife, Jody, with a donation to the AFSP for over $700.
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