OGDEN, Utah-- Following a lengthy rain delay that nearly reached five-and-a-half hours, North Dakota was rewarded for its patience as the Fighting Hawks prevailed, 3-2, over fifth-seeded Montana in an elimination game Friday at the Big Sky Conference Tournament. UND earned its first-ever win at the tourney in the process and advanced through the losers' bracket to play Saturday.
The teams were set to play at 9:30 a.m. local time but the field was underwater after overnight rains. Rain persisted throughout the morning and with field maintenance continuing, the game didn't get underway until just before 3:00 p.m.
Although patience may have helped with focus, the Fighting Hawks certainly weren't patient on the basepaths, pushing the envelope on several occasions to create scoring opportunities.
The teams played a scoreless draw through three innings until North Dakota (26-27) finally broke through in the top of the fourth for the game's first runs. Taylor Nadler reached on an error to start the frame then stole second. After Marina Marzolino singled, she, too, would steal second to put a pair of runners in scoring position for Kaylin VanDomelen.
The senior pitcher placed a perfect single to shallow center to plate Nadler for a 1-0 lead and runners at the corners. She then attempted to steal second and Marzolino scampered home on the throw for a 2-0 Fighting Hawk lead.
Montana countered in the home half of the fifth, getting a walk, a sacrifice and a single to center to plate the first Griz run. Two more singles tied the score through five innings.
Nadler then roped a leadoff double in the sixth over the head of the rightfielder for her 16th double of the season, just two shy of the single-season record at UND. Angel Love was then asked to sacrifice and put down a great bunt and had a heads-up baserunning play as she beat out the throw to first then continued running towards second to get into a rundown. After the throw home, Nadler retreated to third while Love took second to setup two runners in scoring position.
VanDomelen again put her team in front with an RBI groundout for a 3-2 advantage. She then went back to the circle in the bottom of that inning and went to work on protecting it. She needed just 14 pitches, including a pair of strikeouts, to retire the side 1-2-3.
The senior from Banks, Ore., delivered UND's first-ever Big Sky Tourney win by working around a two-out hit in the final inning by inducing a flyout for her 13th win of the season. She'd finish her complete game allowing two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts
UND had five hits, one each from Nadler, Love, Marzolino, VanDomelen and Victoria Minor. VanDomelen drove in two runs and helped setup a third with the double steal attempt.
North Dakota will get Portland State in a Saturday game set for 12:30 p.m. Central in another elimination game.
Notes: It marked the first time since 2010 that North Dakota recorded four wins against a single opponent in a season ... That year, UND won four games against South Dakota en route to a Great West Conference Tournament championship ... Montana was the Big Sky Conference Tournament champion last season and UND was 4-0 against the Griz this year, out-scoring them, 13-3.