Montana's McGrath named Big Sky Player of the Year in softball

Montana Grizzlies logo
Posted at 8:29 AM, May 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-11 10:29:53-04

(Editor's note: University of Montana press release)

Montana senior shortstop Maygen McGrath, who ranks second in the league in batting average and home runs, was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year on Tuesday, based on voting by the league’s coaches.

McGrath, who is batting .386 this season and has a career-high and program-record 15 home runs, becomes Montana’s first Big Sky Player of the Year.

“From Day 1, we knew she could be a special player,” said UM coach Melanie Meuchel, who had McGrath starting at shortstop and batting cleanup in her first collegiate game, in 2019.

“For her to step into such a big position in our sport and watch her continue to grow on a daily basis has been so much fun. She is a big-time player who plays the game for her team.”

The Grizzlies, who take the No. 6 seed into this week’s Big Sky tournament in Ogden, Utah, had a pair of All-Big Sky selections in addition to two players who earned honorable mention honors.

McGrath, second team as a junior and also NFCA third-team All-Pacific Region, earned first-team honors, while senior third baseman Kylie Becker was voted second team for the second consecutive season.

Senior first baseman Cami Sellers and sophomore left fielder Elise Ontiveros were named honorable mention for Montana, which takes a 19-25 overall record into the postseason.

McGrath’s selection as Player of the Year marks just the second time in Big Sky softball history that the winner of the award did not come from the team that finished atop or tied atop the regular-season standings.

After a slow start to the season – McGrath went 1 for 16 in five games at the season-opening Nor Cal Kickoff – she has batted .427 over the last 39 games. She had a .429 average in 17 Big Sky games.

She hit eight home runs in the month of April, with No. 15 on April 29 against Northern Colorado breaking Delene Colburn’s program record of 14 set in 2017.

McGrath has a career batting average of .360. She ranks second in program history in hits (193) and home runs (40), third in runs scored (120) and runs batted in (118).

She has as many home runs (34) since the start of her sophomore season as she’s had strikeouts (34).

“Her consistency over the last couple of years has been so much fun to watch,” said Meuchel. “Her production and the player she is stand out for so many to see.

“She is very deserving of this award. I’m really proud of her.”

Becker was recognized for her all-around game. She is a fearless, hard-nosed defender at third base, where she is quick while possessing a strong arm, and a crowd-the-zone presence at the plate, where she has set career highs this season for RBIs and walks, and matched her career high for extra-base hits.

“She is a gritty player. The plays she makes defensively are noticeable to every single person who is at the game,” said Meuchel. “She is feisty at the plate. Her complete game is something everyone respects and enjoys watching.”

Back on March 11, 21 games into the season, Ontiveros was hitless in nine at-bats.

Then an injury led to a personnel shift in the starting lineup, which had Ontiveros taking over in left field. All she’s done in Montana’s last 29 games is bat .419. She hit .457 in 17 Big Sky games, best on the team.

That’s not to mention the highlight-level plays she’s made in left field.

“When you’re recruiting, you see something in them,” said Meuchel. “I always knew there were going to be a lot of opportunities for her and that when they came her way, Elise would settle in.

“It was an unfortunate circumstance (that led to her starting), but it was an opportunity and Elise stepped up and stepped into who she is and plays like that every single day.”

Sellers was the Big Sky Conference Top Newcomer and second-team all-league as a sophomore in 2019 after transferring from Boston College. She was first-team All-Big Sky last year as a senior.

Over the summer she reconsidered and decided to return for a fourth year as a Grizzly, her fifth year as a collegiate player.

She will go down as one of the program’s top hitters. She has a career average of .337 and ranks in Montana’s top five in runs scored (99), hits (189), doubles (48), home runs (28) and runs batted in (122).

“Cami is a great softball player who plays the game well,” said Meuchel. “She adds to our offensive punch and to our full team, so we were excited to have her back for her fifth year.”

Montana now turns its attention to the Big Sky tournament, which opens on Wednesday in Ogden. The Grizzlies went just 6-11 in league but had six one-run losses and outscored their opponents by nine in those 17 games.

“I’m really excited about our chances,” said Meuchel, who coached the No. 6 Grizzlies to within a play of the championship series last May in Ogden. “When we walked away from a few of our series this spring, we knew there were some things we left on the table.

“Going back and looking at some things and talking through some things, I think we’re in a very good spot and are very excited to compete. We know what we’re capable of and know this is the time we need to step up and put that into play.”

Montana will open its pursuit of Big Sky championship No. 2 on Wednesday at noon against No. 3 seed Portland State.

The teams played three one-run games in Missoula in late March, with the Vikings taking two of three.

“Our series against Portland State was very competitive, very close,” said Meuchel. “A key play could have changed any of the ball games.”