The Montana softball team, sitting in first place by a half-game as the seven-week Big Sky Conference schedule hits its midway point, is back home this weekend for a three-game series against Northern Colorado.

The Grizzlies and Bears are scheduled to play a doubleheader starting at 2:30 p.m. Friday, then a single game at 1 p.m. Saturday, although that plan could always change based on the weather.

Montana (21-19, 6-3 Big Sky) is the only team in the Big Sky that has won all three of its series to date, going 2-1 against North Dakota, Southern Utah and Sacramento State. That has the Grizzlies in first place in the league standings, just ahead of preseason favorite Weber State, which is 5-3. It’s a tenuous position, with only two games in the loss column separating first place and last.

Northern Colorado (16-26, 4-5), picked last in the preseason coaches’ poll, raised some eyebrows and helped its cause last weekend with a home series win over Weber State. The teams split last Friday, with the Bears winning 6-2 on Saturday.

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In facing Northern Colorado this week, Montana will take on a team without an established identity. And that worries a coach who is best trying to prepare his team for what it can expect.

Since the start of league play, the Bears have had road wins by scores of 10-9 and 8-0. They have also been shut out twice, once by Portland State, once last weekend by Weber State. In UNC’s two wins over the Wildcats last weekend, it scored 10 runs against one of the Big Sky’s best pitching staffs.

Earlier this week, Northern Colorado traveled to Colorado State and had nine hits in 14 innings as the Bears got swept in a doubleheader without scoring a single run, falling 3-0 and 7-0. Who exactly is Montana facing this week?

“It’s a team that can score runs in bunches, then they’ll get shut out, like they did at Colorado State,” Montana coach Jamie Pinkerton said. “They’ll get in a shootout, when opponents can score runs on them, then they go out and shut down a potent offense like Weber’s. That makes them a dangerous opponent.

“You prepare the best you can, and you still go with tendencies. It’s an opponent that could come in and score a lot of runs and have the ability to keep us down, or it could be vice versa. We’re trying to focus on our offense, so that if it does turn into a shootout, we’re prepared for it.”

On paper it’s a series that favors Montana, which has the Big Sky’s second-lowest ERA (3.50), going up against a team that ranks next to last in hitting (.248), but that didn’t stop Northern Colorado last weekend against Weber State.

Erica Dick, who plays shortstop and bats leadoff, is Northern Colorado’s top hitter. The senior ranks sixth in the Big Sky in batting average (.377) and ranks in the top four in hits (49), runs scored (27) and RBIs (28). She was voted honorable mention All-Big Sky last season.

Northern Colorado has seven pitchers who have made at least seven appearances this season -- six have made at least one start. Senior Jayme Reddacliff has made a bulk of the starts. She is 9-13 with a 3.12 ERA.

— UM Sports Information

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