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Montgomery delivered right on time.
The 2017 season – Montgomery’s fifth in Ruston – turned into a memorable one for the Lady Techster faithful as Louisiana Tech captured the Conference USA West Division crown, won the league tournament title and participated in the program’s 10th NCAA Regional.
On their way to winning 38 games, Montgomery and Co. set numerous program statistical records and saw a program high six players earn all-conference honors. The 38 wins were the most since the 1995 team won 40 while the conference tournament title was only the program’s second ever (2008 Western Athletic Conference).
For his efforts Montgomery was voted the Louisiana State Coach of the Year by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, the first honor by a LA Tech softball coach since Hall of Famer Bill Galloway earned the same award in 1988.
“Coach Montgomery is so deserving of this award,” said junior captain Katie Smith. “He has remained committed and dedicated to the vision he saw five years ago with this program. That vision definitely surfaced this year. I am confident he will continue to take this program up the ladder. He is resilient, intelligent, and a true teacher of the game. Coach Montgomery has taught us so much about the game of softball, and more importantly, about life.”
“I don’t think anyone is more deserving of this recognition,” said sophomore captain Morgan Turkoly. “Coach Montgomery is the most determined and dedicated person and coach I have ever been around. He works so hard to turn this program into a top level team, and we will continue to be better every year under his leadership.”
Montgomery’s bunch overcame more than its share of adversity on its way to the program’s first C-USA Tournament title as well as its first appearance in the postseason since 2008. The road wasn’t always smooth. Most of the time it felt more like an old dirt country road. Many times the bumps felt more like sinkholes than potholes. For the weak of stomach, this roller coaster ride called for Dramamine.
“I am most proud of the fact the process remained strong throughout the season,” said Montgomery. “This team continued to work hard and to believe at all times. Even when we struggled or met with adversity, this team remained resilient. We really embodied our core values throughout the year, and those values helped us reach our goals for the season.”
Following a fall season that saw Tech outscore its opponents by more than 70 runs in eight games, Montgomery preached of the depth of his roster. That depth would be tested early and often come spring.
Tech saw four of its top players, including three of its four team captains, miss significant playing time during the season due to injury or suspension. Despite the injuries Tech picked up non-conference wins over South Carolina and Indiana and was painstakingly close to a handful of other RPI boosters that slipped through their fingers.
One-run losses to Power 5 teams Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas and South Carolina were all games that the Lady Techsters had chances to win. Three of those four losses came in the last at bat for the opponent.
They were all opportunities to boost the RPI. They were all losses that hurt in more ways than one. But they were also character builders for a team that was full of characters. They stung at the time, but the Lady Techsters didn’t allow the losses to define their season.
“I feel as though some of the types of games we played early helped us when we needed it down the stretch,” said Montgomery. “Maintaining composure in that close game, staying composed as the pressure of games mounted. We also learned how to find a way to win. In some ways we underachieved throughout the year at times in games we should have won, but we continued to grow as a team and when it counted the most we were where we needed to be.”
Tech got off to a fast start when conference play rolled around in early March and quickly showed it would be the cream of the West Division. The Lady Techsters flexed their conference muscle early, pulling off impressive three-game road sweeps over Southern Miss and UAB, the two teams that finished percentage points ahead of Tech in the West Division in 2016.
With the West all but won, Montgomery and Co. turned their attention to the chase for the overall Conference USA regular season title. However, Tech dropped two of three against both Middle Tennessee and UTSA – two teams that failed to qualify for the C-USA Tournament – ultimately allowing the Thundering Herd to pull away for the title.
After sweeping North Texas on senior weekend, Tech had the tables turned in Miami, falling victim to a three-game sweep at the bats and gloves of FIU. It marked the first time in almost two years that a league opponent swept a three-game series against the Lady Techsters.
Tech entered the C-USA Tournament as the No. 3 seed, minus one of their emotional leaders on the field in Smith and with a bad taste in their mouth from the sour ending to the regular season.
Montgomery and Co. did receive some good news the day prior to the conference tournament starting. A program-record six players earned all-league honors, including first teamers Ali Galaz, Turkoly and Krystal De La Cruz and second team selections Preslee Gallaway, Jazlyn Crowder and Marilyn Rizzato. De La Cruz also earned Newcomer of the Year accolades while Rizzato picked up a spot on the C-USA All-Freshman team.
Individual honors were nice, but it was the team title and a bid to the NCAA Regionals that were the focuses heading into the 8-team league tourney.
The clock struck midnight (literally) on the Lady Techsters in Hattiesburg. After run-ruling Charlotte 11-1 in their first game of the tournament in a contest that didn’t start until after 11 p.m. and that ended at 12:32 a.m. due to a pair of extra-inning games preceding it, LA Tech fell the next day to FIU 7-1.
Tech was down to its last strike so-to-speak. One more loss, and the 2017 season was over. The Lady Techsters only hope was to fight their way through the elimination bracket and into the title game.
With their backs against the walls, Tech came out the following day picked up two big wins – a 1-0 10-inning victory over WKU and a 4-2 win over 23rd ranked and regular season champion Marshall. Tech piggybacked those wins with a 1-0 win over FIU in the championship game less than 18 hours later, defeating a Panthers team that had defeated the Lady Techsters four times over the previous eight days.
Gallaway and De La Cruz combined to toss 25 innings without allowing an earned run against three of the top hitting teams in the league. Defensively, play after play was made – from the routine to the unbelievable.
And offensively, Tech found ways in crucial times to provide game-winning hits – from Turkoly’s two-out single in the bottom of the 10th vs. WKU to Tori Charter’s infield RBI single with two outs in the top of the 7th vs. Marshall to Pauline Tufi’s solo home run in the top of the 7th vs. FIU.
All three wins came in their final at bat, showing that this Lady Techster team had learned from the heartbreaks of the earlier season seventh-inning losses.
Thirty hours after winning the championship in Hattiesburg, the Lady Techsters gathered as a team with friends and family as ESPN revealed the 64 teams and the 16 regionals. Tech had the unenviable task of heading to arguably the tournament’s toughest regional where both perennial WCWS contender Alabama and No. 1 ranked Minnesota awaited.
Yet, the Techsters viewed it as an opportunity to show the country their brand of softball on a national stage. That stage proved to be a little too big the first day. LA Tech looked out of character in an 11-3 loss to Minnesota.
“We allowed the moment to get too big,” said Montgomery. “I was proud that we finally settled down and kept competing and fighting, but by the time we did, we were down 7 or 8 runs against one of the best teams in the country.”
However, as they had all year, these Lady Techsters learned from their experience and came back to easily defeat America East champion Albany 8-1 on the second day. The victory gave LA Tech a second chance at Minnesota.
Sunday’s showdown proved to be a different story. The Techsters played within themselves, making great defensive stops early and riding the arm of Gallaway in the circle. The Lady Techsters played toe-to-toe with the No. 1 ranked Gophers before falling in nine innings, proving they belonged on the national stage.
Although the loss ended Tech’s season, it also left a taste of wanting more heading into the off-season.
“Obviously the stage and playing important games against top opponents will help us feel comfortable playing in almost any environment next season,” said Montgomery. “I would think it will also give us the utmost confidence that we can not only play with but beat any top ranked opponent. What is so amazing is that this team is still inspired, and they really want to work hard for more.”
Since his arrival in Ruston, Montgomery has brought a philosophy of developing the complete student-athlete, and his players have embraced this culture.
His philosophy has already proven successful both on and off the diamond. During his first five seasons, Montgomery has led the Lady Techsters to four winning seasons, including back-to-back-to-back 30-plus win seasons the past three years -- the first time LA Tech has accomplished this feat since 1997-1999.
Montgomery owns a mark of 147-122 since coming to Tech and a career collegiate head coaching record of 477-444 in 17 seasons, 15 of those on the Division I level.
His players have also won numerous awards for their play on the field, their work in the classroom and their contributions in the community. In three of the last four years, Lady Techster softball players Natalie Moran, Janine Godwin and Kristen Miles each earned the Conference USA Spirit of Service Award, designed to recognize the community service efforts of the league’s student-athletes, based upon significant community service, good academic standing and participation in their elected sport.
Godwin was also named the Conference USA recipient of the 2015 Woman of the Year Award, one of 57 NCAA Division I female student-athletes from across the country honored with the recognition. Former Techster Erin Kipp was named an Academic All-American during Montgomery’s first season in Ruston. Turkoly became the first LA Tech softball player to earn C-USA All-Academic Team honors this season.
On the field, Montgomery’s players have also seen significant recognition, including the program record six all-Conference USA honorees in 2017. Former Techster Anna Cross was named the WAC Freshman of the Year in 2013 while De La Cruz earned the C-USA Newcomer of the Year this season.
Montgomery has also received recognition for his coaching style during his time at LA Tech. He received the Conference USA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee’s Coaches Choice Award in 2013-14. The SAAC Coaches Choice Award recognizes a coach that is committed to fostering student-athlete development and welfare through a positive athletic and academic atmosphere. Each C-USA institution selects a nominee and then voting is done by the conference SAAC representatives during its annual in-person meeting.
Montgomery came to Louisiana Tech after spending two years at NAIA Georgetown (Ky.) College, eight years at Centenary College and two years at Northern Colorado.
The Kentucky native has led his teams to 11 winning seasons during his 17 years, including 10 seasons of 30 or more wins, while guiding Centenary to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances in 2004 and 2005. During his time at Centenary (2003-2010), Montgomery won 216 games, including victories over Florida, Auburn, Arkansas, Minnesota, Syracuse, Boston College and New Mexico.
Montgomery led the Ladies to the program’s first winning season in 13 years in 2004 and a program record-tying 36 victories as Centenary captured the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament championship and advanced to the school’s first ever NCAA Tournament. Centenary led top-ranked Arizona late in the game before eventually falling 2-1 to the Wildcats.
The following season saw Montgomery and the Ladies win 31 games, capture their second straight Mid-Continent Tournament title and return to the NCAA Tournament.
Following Centenary’s decision to drop down to Division III, Montgomery coached the Ladies in 2009 and then accepted the head coaching position at Northern Colorado where he led the program to back-to-back second place finishes in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference Mountain Division (2nd place) each season while being named the PCSC Mountain Division Coach of the Year in 2011. The 2012 team won a school record 25 games and broke 21 school records.
Montgomery’s teams have always been highly successful away from the softball diamond as each one of them has registered a team grade point average above 3.0 for the past 15 years. His 2001 team at Georgetown College posted a cumulative GPA that ranked in the top 10 of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Academic Teams. His Northern Colorado team in 2012 finished ranked No. 2 in the country in team GPA.
Prior to his collegiate coaching experience, Montgomery served as the softball coach at Lafayette (Ky.) High School where he won seven district titles, five regional titles and one state championship title while posting a 170-73 record.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Kentucky in 1992 and his master’s degree from Georgetown College in 2000.
Montgomery and his wife Melanie have three daughters: Bailey, Emma and Adrienne.
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