SOFTBALL SWEEPS MONTANA IN A WILD WEEKEND

Lucas Gebhart

Sports Editor

The Idaho State Bengals came out on fire Friday afternoon in the first of a three game set against the University of Montana Grizzlies.

Sophie Slagle pitched seven full innings striking out three Grizzlies while only surrendering four earned runs on eight hits.

ISU jumped on the Griz early as junior Kacie Burnett drove in fellow senior Michaela Taylor who reached on an error.

The Bengals surged to a 5-0 lead, scoring another three runs in the third inning.

Burnett reached base four times on three hits with an intentional pass in the 6th inning while collecting two RBIs, giving ISU their first of three victories of the weekend 6-4.

“Every win in the conference is important,” head coach Candi Letts said. “It is tough. Even the teams at the bottom can still do a lot of stuff.”

The Griz chased Bailey Foster after just an inning and a third in the second contest, scoring four runs within the first two innings.

The Bengals responded with four runs of their own in the third, as first basemen Maddy Hickman drove in Taylor and Marquez on a two-RBI double. Ashlyn Ames, who was dominant in the circle after Foster’s departure, followed Hickman with a two run homerun.

“That is the best part about being a pitcher. You live for those,” Ames said. “You are either going to win them or lose them and luckily I won them.”

No more runs were scored until the 6th inning when Montana broke the stale mate as Dani Walker crossed home plate to put the Griz up by a run.

The Bengals fought back, scoring two of their own in the bottom half of the inning. Katelyn Marquez tripled, scoring both Ashley Morris and Sarah Hayes putting the Bengals up by two.

But the Griz did not go away, scoring two more in the seventh to regain a one run advantage.

ISU escaped the inning, only giving up one run.

Morris hit a sacrifice fly to left field allowing Ames to cross the plate to tie the game.

The Griz went one, two, three in the top of the 8th setting the Bengals up to win the ball game in the bottom half with the meat of the order due up.

The Bengals played some small-ball as Burnett drew a walk, Hickman singled on a hit and run allowing Burnett to reach third safely with one out.

“Just keep it simple. That is when we are at our best,” Marquez said.

The Bengals won the game after Ames flew out to deep-center allowing Burnett to race home for the winning run.

“Those games are always the best,” Ames said after Friday’s win. “It is always a better time.”

Saturday was in no shortage of drama either.

Montana took an early 2-0 lead.

ISU cut the lead to one after a Marquez RBI that drove in Taylor. The Bengals then took control of the game in the 4th inning when they loaded the bases with nobody out. Dara Kolar walked to force home Burnett who started the rally with a single. Morris followed suit with a single of her own and Hayes hit a sacrifice fly to center, giving the Bengals a 5-2 advantage. ISU added one more in the 5th before the flood gates opened.

Montana sent 11 batters to the plate in the top of the sixth, scoring seven runs and giving the Griz a 9-5 advantage.

Letts did not say a word to her players after the huge Montana inning. “I just let them play,” Letts explained.

And play they did. The Bengals responded, sending 10 hitters of their own to the plate in the bottom half of the inning.

Morris got things started by reaching on an error and Hayes followed with a single. Burnett then drove in Morris with a two out single to center while advancing to second on the throw to the plate. Hickman drove in Burnett and Hayes on the next pitch cutting the Griz lead to one.

Ames drew a walk and shortstop Alex Protesi was then hit by a pitch loading the bases for Kolar.

Kolar was then hit on the arm by a 1-2 pitch and the Bengals tied the game at nine.

Montana failed to reach base in the top half of the 7th, once again setting the table for a Bengal walk-off.

“That is what we have done all weekend, is battle back,” Letts said.

Hayes flew out to center, and Taylor hit the ball back to the pitcher for two quick outs. Marquez singled, stole second and Burnett drew a walk putting runners at first and second with the cleanup hitter, Hickman up to bat.

Hickman swung at the 3-1 pitch, blasting it to right field and giving the Bengals a 12-9 victory.

“It is awesome,” Hickman said. “I was just so excited that I got to hit at that point.”

“I almost cried,” Marquez said. “I was so excited for her.”

ISU will look to keep the ball rolling next week as they visit Utah Valley.

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