Griz softball tryouts produces two keepers

MISSOUA — Griz softball coaches Jamie Pinkerton and Melanie Meuchel held tryouts recently for students currently enrolled at Montana, and a pair of players turned their opportunity into a spot on next year’s roster.

Kelsey Lucostic, a graduate of Big Sky High School in Missoula, and Madeline Merritt, of St. Charles, Ill., will join the Grizzlies in the fall. They increase Pinkerton’s roster to 13 and are the first non-freshmen to be added to the team.

Lucostic, who played two years at Olympic College in Bremerton, Wash., before enrolling at Montana, will be a redshirt junior. She joins incoming freshman Dani Walker, of Deer Lodge, as the Grizzlies’ in-state players.

Merritt, who is completing her second academic year at Montana, will be a redshirt sophomore.

A total of 13 players went through the four-day tryouts, which were held inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium and Dahlberg Arena.

“I was pleased with the level of softball,” said Pinkerton, who used tryouts when he was the head coach at Arkansas and Tulsa.

Lucostic, a 5-foot-8 infielder who can play either first or third base, is a right-handed power hitter who had three home runs and three doubles last spring while driving in 14 runs for the Rangers.

“The first pitch she swung at in the camp, she hit it into the stands,” Pinkerton said. “She has the experience. If she can gain the respect of the team, she is going to be in a leadership role for us.”

Pinkerton noted that many of the players at the tryouts were rusty, but that wasn’t the case with Lucostic. “When she stepped on the field, she had a presence to her,” he said.

Lucostic will be a fourth-year junior in the fall. At the moment she is the only upperclassman on Pinkerton’s callow roster.

“To be able to play for the first Montana team is kind of a dream come true,” Lucostic said. “My entire family has gone to Griz games and always supported the different Griz teams. It’s a huge family tradition to love the Griz.”

Lucostic spent the winter training with her old club team, the Missoula Avalanche, and trying  to get into the best shape of her life. All with a goal of making an impression at the tryouts.

“I’m excited to be able to wear the first uniforms and use the gear for the first time,” she said, “and to be on the first team in the new softball stadium and be part of history.”

While Lucostic will bring power to Montana’s lineup, Merritt, a 5-foot-3 infielder/outfielder, will bring something different: speed.

“Madeline was by far the fastest player at the camp,” Pinkerton said. “She will bring the lefty-slapper mentality of putting the ball in play and running. That’s nice to have, because speed doesn’t ever slump.”

Speed is something Pinkerton looks for in his role players. Athletes like Merritt have the ability to come off the bench to pinch run and impact the game on the base paths.

In preparation for the tryouts, Merritt trained to keep her speed up and worked with her high school hitting coach when she was back home in Illinois.

“It’s very exciting,” Merritt said. “It’s a completely new program, and none of the girls have really met any of the other girls, so it will be a new experience.”

Pinkerton is still looking to add five or six more players to his team’s 2014-15 roster. He and Meuchel are in the process of watching Montana high school players, many of whom they are seeing for the first time. The coaches are also looking at additional junior college transfers.

“We’re almost where we want to be as a team,” said Pinkerton.

Montana will hold another tryout in the fall, shortly after the fall semester begins, for incoming freshmen.

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