2020 Softball Season Preview

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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 10:05 pm
Location: body in Alabama, heart in Montana

Well another softball season is upon us and once again this team has some big expectations, mostly put on them by themselves. Last year was expected to be a rebuilding year after losing so much experience from the previous season but instead this team surprised everyone and competed very well, bringing offense back to the Grizzly line up. Unfortunately our very experienced pitching staff took a step back last year, although that was partly(maybe largely) due to one of the worst defensive fielding seasons we’ve had. Hopefully a year experience and two likely aces in the pitching staff will turn that around and with the entire line up returning, well, expectations should be high.

2019 season recap
Last year debuted with seven new faces in the starting line up and a boatload of expected growing pains. After some big growth spurts in the non-con schedule(essentially a 25 game road trip), this teams offensive identity started to really take shape. Fresh faces like Cami Sellers, Maygen McGrath, Katie Pippel, and the sudden power emergence of local product Morgan Johnson brought a lot of much needed pop to our lineup, breaking the team homer record amongst other offensive records. The real surprise was the struggles the pitching staff went through. A good part of that was the young infield which will improve. Our normally league leading defense fell to 5th in the con but as our past history showed with yearly improvement from the veterans that left in ‘18, this squad will get better over time too. All the pitchers, except Michaela Hood, mostly stayed steady despite a massive spike in hits allowed. Unfortunately half those girls are gone and Michaela’s return to her pre-injury dominance is now by far the biggest question mark on the team coming into this season.

Here’s a link to last years review
and stats.
https://stats.gogriz.com/custompages/sp ... amcume.htm

Player departures
One of my least favorite sections but a part of the game nonetheless. Half our pitching staff graduated and one girl transferred out. It’s unfortunate to see these girls go but no matter how they leave, once a Griz, always a Griz. Unless you become a bobcat. Then your Griz status is put on hold.

Colleen Driscoll/P
Colleen will go down as one of the most stable pitchers in our history. She was a two time honorable mention All Big Sky selection at pitcher. Finishing second behind Michaela in nearly every statistical category for her career, she is the cons all time leader in least amount of walks per 7 innings at 1.06. Essentially our ace the last two years after becoming a late addition in her recruiting class, a classic overachiever and she will be missed.

Maddy Stensby/P
Maddy has been another steady arm for us throughout her career and, the last two years, she’s been able to help the team with her bat also. After throwing the first two no-hitters in the programs short history her Fr season, she’s done nothing but trend upwards. A 1st Team con selection her Sr year at P/Ut, she finished right behind Colleen in most pitching statistics except games pitched where she’s Montana’s all time leader and 11th in BSC history. Her .285 career BA and two homers last year were big lifts also.

Reily Williams/C
Unfortunately Reily decided to transfer to Augusta(Ga) University but I see why and wish her the best. Plus, it might not be the last we see of her in the BSC. After losing the backup catcher position to fellow Fr MaKenna Tjaden, she was primarily used as a DH/PH. Williams, had a much better bat but Tjaden’s defensive presence is hard to ignore. Reily will be competing for the starting job with a Jr that started all last year but only hit .135 and committed 9 errors. BUT...Southern Utah recently hired Reily’s mom, Don Don Williams from North Idaho where she compiled over 600 career wins and a National Championship runner up. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see Reily in a Thunderbirds uni here in the next two years.

Projected starters for 2020
Really not much projection here since every single position player returns from last years squad.

First base
Jr Cami Sellers who won the BSC newcomer of the Year last year after transferring here from Boston College will will be back at 1st and try to earn the 1st Team All Con honors that she was snubbed on last year. She’ll try to match her .375 BA and 30 extra base hits (21 doubles and 9 homers), not to mention her league leading .484 con schedule BA. The leagues 1st team “selection” was Sac St’s Sr who Cami led in every offensive and defensive category except homers and slugging, where she was a very close 2nd. At least the path is clear for her to win the next two years, if the league decides to give it to her like they gave it away last year. No bitterness here. Expect to see Morgan Johnson play some 1st also as she did this last fall.

Second base
Jr Lexi Knauss stepped in for the graduated Gabi Martinez and really provided the offensive pop that this position has been lacking. Now the defense needs to follow. Her .284 BA and 55 hits were an awesome addition but nearly tripling the error count did not help our pitching staff. That should improve with experience though, making the right side of the infield very solid for the next two years, and beyond. She didn’t play last fall, I’m assuming due to recovering from an injury, which gave incoming Fr Kendall Curtis a lot of innings and she made the most of them, giving Coach Mel a good problem this spring. Two very solid second baseman to choose from.

Third base
So Kylie Becker took a little bit to get settled in at 3rd but once she did, you could tell the hot corner would be hers for the following three years. Hitting .339 over the final 19 games of the season and only committing 8 errors for a .939f%, she’s definitely one of the stars of last years Fr class. The honorable mention All Big Sky selection will be looking to add a lot more hardware to her collection before her time here is done.

So Maygen McGrath eased into the starting SS slot and quickly became a notable force. Her near .300 BA and six homers as a Fr were a welcome surprise and even her .899f% was very comparable to other SS’s around the league. Her and Becker will make a very formidable duo on the left side of the infield for the next three years and very soon it’s gonna be hard for teams to hit singles through the infield.

Left field
Sr Anne Marie Petrino will probably start the season with her experience, speed, and defensive awareness but if her offensive struggles continue, expect either So Brooklyn Weisgram or Sr Kylie Hayton to slide in to the starting spot and Petrino to become more of a defensive replacement and PH when looking to move runners. Weisgram hit nearly .300 with 3 homers as a Fr, something Petrino hasn’t ever come close too. Petrino’s .949f% far surpasses Weisgram’s .846 though, albeit most of Weisgram’s 8 errors last year occurred in RF even though the bulk of her innings were in left.

Sr Kylie Hayton waited patiently two years for McKenna McGill to graduate so she could step in. Once she did, she filled in very admirably. Last year she hit .274 with a team leading 8 stolen bases while committing only two errors all year. The biggest area she lacks in may be her range in the outfield. McKenna throughout her 3.5 years as a starter(half her Jr year she missed to injury) averaged 1.75 put outs a game in center. Last year Hayton averaged 1.12. That’s close to an extra hit per game that she’s allowing due to not being able to get to the ball. If she’s not able to improve her reaction time this year Weisgram may step into center where she got most the starts this last fall.

Right field
So Katie Pippel was by far the biggest surprise last year, even maybe to herself. She was a late spring addition after two girls from last year’s recruiting class didn’t make it to spring. It didn’t take her long to solidify herself as one of the most productive offensive weapons, and defensive gems on the team. She’ll try to continue that this year after hitting .337(2nd on the team) while only committing one error in 38 games last year. Weisgram May also see some time here but if Pippel picks up right where she left off, it’ll be hard to keep her out of the lineup.

Jr Jessica McAlister is arguably the best defensive catcher in the con, but I imagine whatever position she played, you could say that about her. Offensively she’s not to shabby either hitting .320 last year after batting .256 as a Fr while playing a damn good 3B. She was an All BSC snub last year after earning honorable mention despite posting a far better BA, stolen base against %, and just below the 1st and 2nd team “selection”(both also So’s) in fielding %. I’m sure she’ll maintain her high level of play, if not raise it farther, and hopefully earn what’s rightfully hers, along with a BSC championship.

Designated Player
Sr Morgan Johnson was my feel good story of the year, although Pippel was a very close 2nd. Like all Missoula kids, the Big Sky grad has a special place in my heart. My dream growing up in Missoula was to play for the Griz(which never happened) and I love living vicariously through these kids watching them shine on the field. To see her offensive explosion last year after her struggles her 1st two years was very special. She carried over to last fall and now in her Sr season, I’m hoping she can continue her great play and go out on a high note. Coach played her at 1st also last fall so her and Cami may swap out some but her power is where she’ll shine. When she really turned it on last year was in her last 40 at bats(17 games) she hit .375 with six homers. If her and all the other girls can keep up those huge bats, we may have back to back years of breaking the team homer record(34 set last year, BSC team record is 78 by ISU in ‘13).

The Reservers
Fr Kendall Curtis is going to be good one. A high average hitter in high school, she plays great defense and has started to add power to her game(more on these incoming Fr a little later).
Fr Jaxie Klucewich is a speedy MI’er who will help add depth with OF experience also.
Fr Julie Phelps has all the tools and may push some of the other outfielders for starts this year.
So MaKenna Tjaden won the backup catcher spot against other Fr last year and hopefully this year she will expand on her promising Fr year. Offensively she has a lot of room to grow. Last year she provided a lot of power from her limited production(3 of 7 hits for extra bases, .135 BA) but defensively she is very adept, committing only one error in nearly 100 opportunities.
Designated Player
Fr pitcher Ashley Ward will definitely get a chance to show off her bat this year after hitting a homer in her first at bat as a a Griz last fall. A highly decorated Nevada girl, she was nothing but production from the plate in high school. I see many all-con P/Ut awards in her time here.

The Pitchers
Tristin Achenbach Jr

Tristan will most likely be the load carrier of this staff and if her past is any indication, that’s a really good thing. She’s a strike out machine with some pretty dominant stuff most times, setting s single game conference record last year with 16 k’s. She walks a batter for every 3 k’s and gives up about a hit an inning but amazingly enough, only threw one wild pitch all year. Big things will be expected of her this year.
Michaela Hood Sr
Michaela is the biggest question mark on the team. We all know her dominance her Fr year and expected to be talking about the greatest pitcher in the cons history finishing her stellar career. Instead it’s more of “what coulda been”. Not that she’s been bad by any means, just not what are expectations were after year one. Griz fans never have to high of expectations either :lol: . She will still go out as the greatest pitcher in the team’s history, just with records that will be breakable instead of unbreakable. Regardless of how this season plays out, she will and should be celebrated for helping set the pitching standards that future Griz will look up too.
Ashley Ward Fr
Speaking of future Griz, this one will be fun to watch. Her stature may be small, but she’ll be dominant in the circle, as well as with her bat. She was her leagues offensive player of the year as a Jr and the pitcher of the year as a Sr. Let’s just say, she’s gonna do some things here.

Incoming freshmen/transfers
This years incoming class has a lot of potential to be really good. Two middle infielders, an outfielder, and a pitcher/DP make up the group and we’ve already seen some really good signs of future success from a couple of these girls.
Kendall Curtis Fr 2B/SS/3B
Glacier Peak High, Snohomish Wa

Kendall will be a star here, maybe sooner then later. Brought in to add depth to the middle infield, due to in injury to incumbent 2B Knauss, she was able to start all fall. In her Griz debut, she definitely showed signs of good things to come, and possibly may challenge for a starting spot. A highly decorated, high average hitter out of Washington, she carried that success right into the fall schedule, hitting over 500, a couple extra base hits including a homer and a ton of runs and RBI’s. To say the least, she’s making it hard for coach to keep her off the field.
Ashley Ward Fr P/1B/OF
Coronado High, Henderson Nv

Ashley may be one of the most decorated players ever coming into the program, winning the Sunrise League Player of the year as a Jr for her offensive production(her teammate won the pitcher OTY) and her league’s Pitcher of the Year and Nevada’s Gatorade Softball Player of the Year for her efforts as a Sr. She carried that into fall smacking a homer in her first at bat as a Griz and scattered six hits over 13 innings while striking out 15 and allowing 0 runs. With high school career numbers like a 2.46 ERA over 338 innings and 400+ k’s coupled with a .502 BA and .778 SLG% in over 500 career plate appearances, I think we’ll see big things over her Griz career.
Julie Phelps Fr OF
JW North High, Riverside Ca

Julie is a great prospect that’s played very well at a high level of competition. Unfortunately she missed her entire Sr year to injury. A two time 1st Team All Sunset League as a So and a Jr, she’s a great fielder with good contact and speed. She’s a .400 career hitter slugging .570, while racking up 23 stolen bases. Her Jr year she committed only 1 error in CF while her team advanced to the championship game of her district. I bet getting on the field last fall for the first time in over a year felt really good for her.
Jaxie Klucewich Fr MI/UT/OF
Eagle High, Eagle Id

Jaxie comes in with Griz heritage, having two uncles that played football in the early 80’s. She’s played mostly SS for a very good Eagle Idaho team earning 1st Team honors the last two years and third for a year as a So at Msla Big Sky, also earning state honors. A high average hitter with good speed, she should add some solid depth this year.

Here’s a link to roster 2020 Softball Roster

Fall season recap
Montana had a tremendous fall, out scoring opponents 156-3 while going 8-0. Cami Sellers showed she’ll pick up right where she left off last May. Katie Pippel, Kylie Becker, Brooklyn Weisgram, Jessica McAlister, and Morgan Johnson all also kept pace with where their production was. This year GoGriz was kind enough to provide box scores for the first time but unfortunately only offered them for half the games. From the stats provided, all these girls hit over .500 except Becker who was close to .400 with several extra base hits including a homer. Interestingly enough, only ten homers were hit but Morgan Johnson hit three herself showing that her late season surge was no fluke and she’s dialed in and ready to take off this year.
All three pitchers were good but Achenbach was exceptional and Ward was surprisingly ready to play, allowing 0 runs in her 13 innings. Achenbach was steamrolling striking out 44 in 21 innings, and from what I can tell, didn’t allow a single hit, let alone a run. Michaela was the only one of the three to allow a run with a 1.11 era. Her bright spot was a 7 inning complete game shutout. If she returns to anything near her Fr year form, this staff will be stacked and ready to dominate the con.

The 2020 schedule
This years schedule at first glance isn’t too intimidating but digging a little deeper, it shows some real good challenges during the non con “29 game road trip”. Two top 25 matchups in Texas Tech(#16) and Arkansas(#21), the latter a true road game. They are also two of seven teams on the schedule that made it to the national tournament, Texas Tech being one win from advancing to the final 16. Three more teams including two true road games(#43 Louisiana Tech and #44 UNLV plus #48 NDSU) are inside the top 50 from last years season ending RPI rankings. Four more teams come inside or just outside the top 100 last year(#78 Grand Canyon, #93 Boston, #106 BYU, and #108 South Dakota State) and victories against any of these teams would boost our national stature.
We could be having a big weekend right out the gate. Traveling the farthest east we’ve been the opening weekend to New Orleans and host Louisiana Tech, we’ll also face #263 Alabama A&M, #276 Jackson State, and #195 Central Arkansas. We finished at #220 last year and will certainly be a better team this year then last on the opening weekend.
The con schedule is very interesting and puts us in very good position to win the regular season. Our road games are against #198 Idaho St, #216 Port St, and #241 Nor Colorado. The nice part about our schedule is we get the two perennial conference powers and 1st and 2nd in this years preseason poll, #168 Sac St(#2) and the last weekend of the year #113 Web St(#1), who is also the host of this year’s conference championship. That last weekend vs Web St, just like two years ago, will be a very interesting weekend.

Here’s a link to the schedule

Sneak peek to next years recruits
Next years signees already seem to be a very strong group. Two dominating pitchers, one of which has a dominating bat while also playing 1st, a power hitting 3B, a defensive gem of a catcher, and a multi tool OF’er. Keeping an eye on this group over the spring and summer will certainly help keep the excitement elevated.
Anna Toon is a P/SS from Great Falls High in Great Falls Mt. Montana’s Gatorade Player of the year as a Jr, she’s a power hitting left handed batter but throws right. A big presence on the mound, she will definitely help retool the pitching staff after Hood graduates.
Allie Brock is another P from La Grande Or. A truly dominant pitcher, she earned Oregon’s 4A Player of the Year award as a So and a Jr and I’m sure she’s looking forward to a truly dominant Sr year.
Kelly Sweyer is a power hitting 3B from Woodland Wa. Coach says she reminds her of Delene Colburn which I hope is praise she doesn’t throw around lightly.
Riley Stockton is a true defensive C from Rogers High out of Spanaway Wa. Committing only one error so far in her high school career(156 att at a .995f%) through her Jr year, her offense isn’t too shabby either(.362 career average and five homers in 155 at bats).
Elise Ontiveros of Bakersfield Ca and Independence High is an OF’er with a lot of tools. With exceptional speed and defense in the outfield, she’s a high average hitter who’s adding power to her game.

Here’s a link to signing day
https://gogriz.com/news/2019/11/13/soft ... -five.aspx

Once again, like usual, I’m very excited about this season. With all the uncertainties from our offense last year turning into certainties(I hope), I think this team is poised to win another title. With a solid, healthy pitching staff, hopefully, our offense won’t need to score as many runs. As long as our defense can shore up its fielding issues with experience, I see big things on the horizon for this team...as usual. Go Griz!
"In Bill's(Wild Bill Kelly) tragic death there might be some message for the college society that basks in the glory of the football team and the individual heroes, but overlooks the fact that they are like the rest of us with conflicts, fears, frustrations, and weakness."-Joseph Cochran, friend of Kelly's
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Awesome, detailed and insightful preview, Alabama! :clap: :clap: :clap: Thanks a ton.
I'm a pretty rabid hoops fan, but I gotta admit... can hardly wait for the first week of softball season.

Very intrigued to see how the Griz will face off against Arkansas on Feb. 22. Melanie and her assistant coach (Dennis) will be facing off against family, since former Nevada H.C., Matt Meuchel (Melanie's brother, a Big Sky H.S. class of 95 grad) is lead assistant for the Razorbacks.
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Love your info and analysis. Thanks for taking the time to do it. I’m excited to see some of the new kids get their feet wet as well as some of the returnees take the next step.

I truly hope our coaching staff takes the next step forward as well. You know I’m not 100% sold on Coach Mel yet. I think the girls love her which is huge but I don’t love the in-game management. The bunting situations, the stealing situations, base running blunders....those need to improve a ton.
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