OGDEN – Believe it.
The prize fight for the Big Sky Conference regular season championship lived up to its hype, and then some.
Senior first baseman Sara Hingsberger delivered a two-out RBI single to center field in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings, and sophomore second baseman Sadie Blacker drove in the game-winning run in the eighth as the Weber State University softball team won its second straight Big Sky Conference regular season title with a 6-5 win over Montana on Saturday afternoon at Wildcat Softball Complex.
“We battled all game,” said Blacker. “We got down early, and battled back. We executed our game plan and did great.
“It was a great hit at the end. I mean it was nice to have it, but it was our team's effort that brought us there. We all came through clutch, got it done and got the win.”
Weber State finished 15-5 in Big Sky play for the second straight year, and wrapped up its regular season with a 31-17-1 overall record. The win means the 2017 Big Sky Conference Softball Championship will be played at Wildcat Softball Complex for the second straight year. The Wildcats will open up the championship at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday against the winner of No. 4 seed Southern Utah and No. 5 seed North Dakota.
Freshman right fielder Takesha Saltern continued her explosive week at the plate with her fourth consecutive multi-hit game as she went 3-for-4 with three runs scored, including the game-tying run on Hingsberger's seventh-inning hit.
Hingsberger was 2-for-3 with four RBI, two coming on a third-inning double to right center that got the Wildcats on the board after a rough start left Weber State in a 4-0 hole. She added another on a sacrifice fly RBI in the 5th that pulled the Wildcats within 5-4, before her dramatic seventh inning RBI single to center field scored Saltern and tied the game at 5-5.
"In that moment I knew I had to get my job done, there was no way that ball was getting past me and I was going to put it in play," Hingsberger said. "I knew even if I had just moved Bug (Saltern) over to third, (senior designated player) Ri (Splinter) would have scored her. I had total faith in our team and no doubt that we were going to pull through. As soon as she scored and I was on first, I knew we still had work to do, and knew we'd get it done."
After a groundout to start the seventh, Saltern reached on an infield single, and then stole second base to get into scoring position. A strikeout gave the Wildcats just one more chance, and Weber State's career RBI leader delivered.
“The fans were treated to an amazing game to decide the host team for the Big Sky tournament,” Weber State coach Mary Kay Amicone said. “I'm very proud of our fight and grit to win today.
“(Senior right-hander) Kirtlyn (Bohling) showed her competitive excellence today after falling behind early. She pitched out of some tight situations.”
Montana (15-6 Big Sky, 32-22 overall) came out charging with a pair of early singles, before Delene Colburn hit a three-run home run to left field to put the Grizzlies ahead 3-0 in the first, and Bethany Olea hit an RBI single down the left field line for a 4-0 lead in the third.
Hingsberger's two RBI double and Riana Splinter's RBI single pushed three runners across in the bottom of the inning to help ignite the Wildcat offense and pull within a run at 4-3.
Colburn had her fourth RBI of the game in the 5th with a hit to right center to give Montana a 5-3 lead.
Saltern was again the beneficiary of Hingsberger's bat in the bottom of the inning when she scored on a sacrifice fly to center field to again pull the Wildcats within a single run at 5-4.
“Montana played an outstanding game and series this weekend,” Amicone said. “Our focus with two outs was a key. I'm so happy for our team to gain the experience of tournament intensity.”
With the winds firmly at their back thanks to the late-game heroics, Bohling forced a pop-up and struck out Montana's final two batters to get the Wildcats back at the plate.
Junior catcher Molly Horne reached on a one-out walk, with sophomore JaeCie Wilson pinch running for her. Senior third baseman KyRae Kogianes was hit by a 1-1 pitch, moving Wilson into scoring position at second base. Enter Blacker, who was 0-for-3 on the afternoon, but delivered the biggest hit of all when she punched a bloop single into shallow center field on the sixth pitch of her at bat, sending Wilson racing to home plate where she easily beat the throw, setting off a celebration as the Wildcats quickly poured out of the dugout.
Bohling, who became Weber State's career strikeout leader in game 1 of the series on Friday, went all eight innings, with 12 hits on 127 pitches and five strikeouts for her 18th win of the year.