Only first-year Northern Colorado coach Ben Garcia knows what was going through his head in the bottom of the sixth on Saturday, with his team tied 2-2 with Montana at Grizzly Softball Field and Cami Sellers coming to the plate with one out and a runner on second.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the same situation had played out in Game 1, in the bottom of the seventh, and Sellers, who is batting .463 in Big Sky Conference games, gave Montana a 6-4 win with a walk-off home run to right-center.
Once again, the game’s outcome was hanging in the balance. A base was open. Sellers already had two hits on the day, five in the series, three of which had gone for extra bases. With only a few moments to weigh his options, the coach made up his mind.
“With certain players you have to make certain choices as a coach. You make your decision and you live with it,” said Griz coach Melanie Meuchel after the game, not long after Sellers hit another no-doubter over the fence in right-center to give her team a 4-2 lead.
It wasn’t a walk-off, but it might as well have been. Montana wasn’t going to lose for the first time in 13 games this season when leading after six innings, not on Senior Day, not this time, not after the program had started its history with four straight losses on that most meaningful of late-season days.
As for Sellers and what was going through her mind at the same time Garcia opted to pitch to Montana’s top hitter?
“I was just thinking I wanted to do it for the seniors, because they’ve put so much into this program,” she said. “I wanted to do what I could to make sure they didn’t leave today with a loss.
“I wasn’t trying to hit a home run, but it was my pitch, so I took it.”
It was more than just a 4-2 victory. It clinched a spot in the six-team Big Sky Conference tournament, which kicks off on Wednesday, May 8, at Sacramento State.
It snapped an 0-for-4 streak for the program on previous Senior Days and gave Montana (7-8 in league games, 21-29 overall) wins in its final 11 home games of the season, which gave the Grizzlies, at 16-3, their best home campaign in program history.
And all three wins over the Bears came in games in which the Grizzlies trailed at some point.
“My heart is pretty happy right now, for a lot of people,” said Meuchel, whose team plays a three-game series at Southern Utah next weekend before traveling to Sacramento for the tournament. “Just where we’re at, the way we’re feeling, the way we’re responding and playing hard.
“I’m proud of these players and our staff. There is still more out there. I think we’re in a great spot to keep going.”
When Montana leaves for Southern Utah on Friday, the Grizzlies will pack for the long haul. They’ll play the Thunderbirds next Saturday and Sunday, then travel to Sacramento, where they hope to be playing deep into the tournament. And beyond.
“It’s great we got a sweep on senior weekend, but I know the whole team wants more,” said Colleen Driscoll. “We want to perform at the Big Sky tournament. That’s what our focus is."