Montana softball coach Jamie Pinkerton insists his offense isn’t clicking on all cylinders through two weeks of the season, and the numbers back up his claim, but that hasn’t stopped his individual hitters from earning Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors.
Last week it was senior Bethany Olea, who hit .625 at Northern Iowa’s season-opening tournament. On Wednesday it was Sydney Stites‘s turn, a career first for the sophomore from Bozeman who was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year last season.
Stites, who batted just .267 at the Bronco Classic last weekend at Santa Clara, Calif., only a few points higher than the team’s ho-hum .252 four-game average, was recognized more for her power numbers and situational hitting.
She had just four hits at the tournament in 15 at-bats, but she drove in nine of Montana’s 18 runs. All of her RBIs came while batting with two outs.
“It was a weekend when she was efficient,” said Pinkerton, whose team went 2-2 at the Bronco Classic, with two wins over host Santa Clara and two losses to Seattle.
“She didn’t have a large number of base hits, but when she came up with opportunities to drive in runs, she was successful doing that.”
In Saturday’s opener against Santa Clara, Montana trailed 1-0 going into the fifth. Runs in the fifth and sixth gave the Grizzlies a 2-1 lead entering the seventh, which is when they broke the game open.
With runners on second and third, and two outs, leadoff batter MaKenna McGill singled home a run to make it 3-1. Batting in the No. 2 spot, Stites made it 6-3 when she homered to left field, her first of the year.
Montana added two more runs on its way to an 8-1 win.
In Sunday’s matchup against the Broncos, Tori Lettus and Alex Wardlow, the team’s No. 7 and 8 hitters, got on base to lead off the second inning. They were still sitting on second and third with two outs when Stites came up and singled to right field to put Montana up 2-0.
One inning later the bottom part of the lineup got on base again, and again Stites came to bat with two outs. Her second home run of the weekend — and first grand slam of her career — put the Grizzlies up 6-0.
Her six RBIs were a career high and one short of Lexie Brenneis‘s single-game record of seven, set in 2015 against North Dakota. Montana would go on to win the game 7-2.
“Her six RBIs were the difference in the ball game,” said Pinkerton. “You take her production out of the lineup and we lose 2-1. Credit the lower half of the order for getting on base. They set the table for her.
“We struggled all weekend with runners in scoring position and with the bases loaded, but she worked the count pretty well and got pitches she could drive.”
Montana (4-5) will play five games this weekend at the Bank of Hawaii Invitational in Honolulu, starting with back-to-back games against No. 5 Oregon (9-0) on Friday and Saturday. The Grizzlies will play UNLV (7-2) on Saturday and Sunday, and the host Rainbow Wahine (4-3), also on Sunday.