MISSOULA — Backed into a corner by Big Sky Conference co-leader Idaho State, the Montana Grizzlies sent a message Sunday:
They may be young, but there's nothing wrong with their heart.
The UM softball team battled back from a two-run deficit to win in eight innings, 4-3, in front of a large and excited crowd at Grizzly Softball Field. Sophomore Cami Sellers was the hero, driving in the tying run in the sixth and delivering a walk-off RBI double with two outs in the eighth.
"Everyone was so hyped," said the Boston College transfer, who went 3 for 4 on the day. "I think we all knew it was going to happen. It was just a matter of when and who and it was exciting for everyone."
The matter of when Montana was going to nab its first conference win became a concern after it was swept by Idaho State in its league debut Saturday. Grizzlies coach Mel Meuchel had a long talk with her young team — Montana does not have a single senior among its starting position players — and it showed in the form of resilience Sunday.
Nothing seemed to go right early for senior hurler Colleen Driscoll and the Grizzly defense.
An error by Montana catcher Jessica McAlister opened the door for a two-run first inning by the Bengals. Driscoll was lifted in the second inning after surrendering her sixth hit and third run.
Enter senior reliever Maddy Stensby, who was masterful for the Grizzlies (1-2 conference, 11-23 overall). She held the Bengals (4-1, 13-17) scoreless for seven innings while her team gained a footing.
"Maddy Stensby was flat-out phenomenal," Meuchel said. "She threw with a lot of confidence. The tough got tougher a little bit. You saw that in her."
Stensby showed a flair for the dramatic in the seventh and eighth innings.
After the Grizzlies knotted the score at 3-3 on Sellers' RBI single in the sixth, Idaho State landed a runner on third with one out in the seventh. Stensby responded by retiring the next two batters, striking out cleanup hitter Shayna Dahlen to end the threat.
The Bengals once again landed a runner on third with one out in the eighth. Stensby snuffed the threat by coaxing the next two hitters into infield ground-outs.
"I've been put in a relief situation a lot in my career, so I'm pretty used to going in when things aren't going super well," said the Olympia, Washington, native.
"My change-up has been really good lately and I think my backdoor curve ball was accurate today. This was really big today to show we can win in the Big Sky."
Montana finished with 10 hits, marking just the third time in 13 games it has reached double figures.
Missoula Sentinel grad Brooklyn Weisgram drove in the first Grizzly run with an RBI single in the first inning. Reilly Williams' bloop single in the fifth drove in Weisgram with the second run for the hosts, setting the stage for Sellers' heroics in the sixth and eighth frames.
"She had a good weekend," Meuchel said of Sellers, who collected six hits in three games against Idaho State. "She saw the ball and stayed within herself and found pitches she could drive instead of pitchers working around her."
Asked about the long talk she had with her troops after Saturday's losses to Idaho State, Meuchel pointed out that it was as much a matter of her players sharing their feelings with one another as it was her giving a pep talk.
"One thing I like about this team is they share their thoughts and listen to each other. They express what they're going through," she offered. "They've got heart. They've got guts. They're feisty.
"It's fun to listen to their insight. I feel like once we started doing that we started coming together more as a family."
Part of the family atmosphere at Grizzly Softball Field is the fans, according to Meuchel. Montana is 6-3 at the friendly confines this season.
"(Saturday) wasn't exactly how we wanted it to end, but coming into today, there was a lot of talk about who we are, what we want," said Meuchel, whose team has a big series at Sacramento State this weekend.
"Our crowd since we've been home has been absolutely amazing. They're loud. They're in it. The players feel it and I think that pushes them and drives them a little bit more."