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Big Sky Tournament Central
Big Sky standings

MISSOULA, Mont. — In a must win game, Sacramento State came through in a big way, posting an 8-0 mercy rule victory over Montana on the final day of the regular season, and in the process, clinching the Big Sky Conference regular season championship.

The Hornets (29-18, 14-7) entered the day tied for first place with Weber State in the Big Sky standings, and needed a win or a Weber State loss to clinch the conference title. Weber State defeated Northern Colorado, 3-1, earlier in the day, making today's game a must-win situation for Sacramento State. The Hornets got the job done, posting eight runs and eight hits in a game that was stopped after five innings because of the eight-run mercy rule.

The regular season title means the Hornets will host next year's Big Sky Tournament. Next week, they will be the No. 1 seed at the tournament on May 10-12 in Ogden, Utah. Weber State won last year's regular season title, allowing them to host this year's postseason tournament.

Sacramento State will assume the No. 1 seed and receive a first round bye at next week's double elimination tournament. The Hornets will open on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. PDT against an opponent to be determined. The winner of the Big Sky Tournament receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals.

The Big Sky championship is the Hornets' first since the conference began sponsoring softball in 2013. Today also marks Sacramento State's first league title since winning the Pacific Coast Softball Conference in 2008. It was also the Hornets' second conference championship at the Div. I level (1990-pres.), and 10th in program history (1967-pres.).

Sacramento State is now 73-41 (.640) all-time in Big Sky play, and had posted three second place finishes before getting over the hump today.

The Hornets and Weber State (27-22, 14-7) finished the regular season in a tie for first place, but the Hornets earned the tiebreaker by virtue of taking two of three from the Wildcats earlier this year in Ogden. The two teams entered the week in a first-place tie, and the Hornets took two of three from Montana while Weber State won two of three at home vs. Northern Colorado.

"We are thrilled to finally bring home the Big Sky championship," Sacramento State fifth-year head coach Lori Perez said. "After a few years of being so close, we were on a mission to get it done this year. Our players came out hungry and ready to attack today. I could not be prouder of the effort of our players and coaching staff.

"We intend to keep this momentum going into the upcoming week and will be preparing hard to be a strong force at the tournament. Thank you to all of the support this year from our fans, the community, and most importantly, our families."

Sacramento State picked a great day to score its most runs since tallying 13 at Northern Colorado on March 24. The Hornets scored three times in both the first and second innings, and twice more in the fifth. Hornet ace Celina Matthias (18-9) was on her game again, throwing a two-hit shutout while striking out three batters.

The Hornets got the scoring started in the first inning, set up by a two-out walk to Suzy Brookshire and an infield single by Sydney Rasmussen. That set up Mo Spieth, who was drilled in the leg on the first pitch she saw from Montana starter Colleen Driscoll. However, the umpire ruled that Spieth intentionally stuck out her leg to get hit by the pitch, and did not allow Spieth to take first base. Four pitches later, Spieth sent a rocket over the left-center field fence to give Sacramento State a 3-0 lead. Over the last two games of the series (both wins), Spieth was 3-for-6 with two homers and five RBIs.

Sacramento State tacked on three more in the second after Zamari Hinton singled home both Marissa Maligad and Matthias. Later in the inning, Hinton and Nene Alas pulled off a successful double steal with Alas swiping home to give Sacramento State a 6-0 lead.

The Hornets tacked on two more in the fifth on a Spieth RBI-single scoring Brookshire and a Matthias sacrifice fly plating Rasmussen.

In the circle, Matthias faced just three batters over the minimum, allowing two hits with one walk and three strikeouts over five innings. She needed just 79 pitches to complete the shutout and Montana advanced only one runner past second base the entire way.

Spieth was 2-for-4 with a run, homer and four RBIs while Hinton was 1-for-3 with a stolen base and two RBIs. In the process, Hinton improved her hitting streak to 11 games. Alas, Hinton, Brookshire, Rasmussen, Matthias and Maligad also had hits for the Hornets.

Driscoll (7-8), who threw a four-hit shutout of the Hornets yesterday in Game 1, was saddled with today's loss after giving up six hits and six runs without getting out of the second inning.

The Hornets (29-18, 14-7) need just one win to lock down their first 30-win season since the 2008 team went 32-21. That 2008 team was also the last Hornet softball squad to qualify for the NCAA Regionals.