By Bruce Sayler
The Butte High softball team arrived in time Tuesday.
Playing perhaps their best softball game of the season, the Bulldogs blanked Billings Skyview 10-0 at Stodden Park, then dispatched a stubborn Falcon outfit 16-10 in a hard-played, if not picturesque, second game.
The two wins came in the Eastern AA Conference playoffs and Butte High completed the necessary step for advancement to the May 24-26 state Class AA tournament in Helena.
The best-of-three set was played in 70-degree temperatures on a bright, sunny afternoon occasionally invaded by wind gusts. The result was decisive. The Bulldogs Huffed, they puffed and blew the Falcons’ hopes down.
They especially Huffed.
Bulldog junior shortstop Taylor Huff drove in 12 runs with three home runs and a single over the two games. One of her round-trippers was a grand slam. Senior ace Kaidy McClafferty hurled complete games both times with the first ending in the fifth inning on the 10-run difference rule. McClafferty also homered while also enjoying a good day, offensively. She is a Bemidji State signee.
Though Butte High suffered some defensive breakdowns, it also produced some absolute gems in the field, especially on plays by Brittney Tierney at third base, Kennedi Ferriter at second, Trisha Ericson in left field and Madison Joseph in center. Senior catcher Emma Cox was behind the plate all 12 defensive innings and applied an important tag play to blunt a Skyview rally in the second game.
“We put a couple of good games together,” Ryan Stosich, head coach of the Bulldogs, said after the team raised its season record to 17-7. “We did a couple of things that are uncharacteristic of us, but these are two good wins and we’re headed to State.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, not for our eight seniors. They’ve worked so hard and gone to a lot of open gyms to get this. We preached to them to keep their eyes on the prize. This is the prize.”
The coach was happy with the start, but not so pleased with the finish. The girls, though, would’ve liked to have finished the day a little stronger, too.
“We have to close it out a lot better,” Stosich said, speaking of future chances. “But, we did a good job. I think 17-7 has to be one of our best records in our 13 years (as a coaching staff).”
Butte High 10, Billings Skyview 0 (5 innings)
Butte High jumped on the Falcons for an 8-0 command two innings into the day. McClafferty set Skyview down in order in the top of the first, then the Bulldogs took their first swings and they were worth five runs.
A dropped popup let Mayville State-bound Brianna Ossello reach base, then a short-field single by Tierney to right followed. The fielder looked to have lost the ball in the glaring sun. Both runners moved up on a passed ball after an out. Huff then singled to right and the two runners scored. Huff took second on the throw to the plate. McClafferty then singled to right to score Huff.
Jessie Ellis barely beat out a one-out bunt single for Skyview in the second, but was stranded on base after a strikeout and a flyout. Butte High returned to the batter’s box and scored five more times.
Joseph grounded a one-out single into center field, then a muffed throw on Ossello’s sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third. Tierney drew a walk to load the bases. Jenna Maroney singled to center, driving in Joseph. Ossello raced home on a wild pitch, leaving runners on second and third. They rode home on Huff’s three-run shot over the fence in right-center.
The blast chased Skyview starter Raegan Harper, bringing on freshman Autumn Peters in relief.
“I couldn’t fix my swing at the last games (a May 8 doubleheader sweep by Great Falls High), but I think I’ve fixed it now,” Huff said, with a smile after the two games. “I couldn’t do it without my coaches.”
Huff said facing Harper often recently was maybe an advantage for her on Tuesday.
“We were going against her last year, too,” Huff said. “And, she is a pretty good pitcher. I think winning two games today is huge for us and I really feel like we can do some damage at State.”
Huff had five runs batted in during the first game Tuesday with the two-run single, and three-run homer. She added a three-run homer and a grand slam to the stack in the second game.
“Taylor had a great day,” Stosich said. “We have to do some things better in the field, but she swung the bat for us today.”
Joseph scored on a two-out walk in the third inning for a 9-0 Butte High lead, then McClafferty pitched a three-pitch fourth inning. She induced groundouts on each pitch — by Skyler Chartier to second baseman Ferriter on the first pitch, by Breezy Nafts to third baseman Tierney on the second and by Ellis to shortstop Huff on the third.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an inning pitched before in which the catcher never touched the ball,” Butte High pitching coach Eric Mankins remarked.
“Kaidy threw only 45 pitches for the game and I’m sure that’s the first time in her four-year career pitching for us she’s gone 1-2-3 on three pitches,” the coach said.
The Bulldogs scored their game-ender in the bottom of the fifth frame. Cox led off with a single to right and Ferriter walked. A wild pitch moved the runners up a base apiece, and then Ericson ripped a base hit to left field to plate the game-ending run under the 10-run difference rule.
Ericson had just helped preserve the spread with a play in the top of the fifth. With a runners on first and second and one out, Natalie Beck flied to left. Ericson grabbed the flyball and immediately fired to Ferriter at second base to catch Aliya Morrow off the bag for an inning-ending double play.
McClafferty chalked up a three-hitter with three strikeouts and no walks.
Billings Skyview 000 00x x — 0 3 2
Butte High 351 01x x — 10 9 1
Raegan Harper, Autumn Peters (2) and Taelynn Miller. Kaidy McClafferty and Emma Cox. W — McClafferty (15-4). L — Harper.
SKYVIEW (4-13) — Kaylee Kannegieser 1-2, Ashlynn Copinga 0-2, Skyler Chartier 0-2, Skyler Meagher 0-0, Breezy Nafts 0-2, Jessie Ellis 1-2, Raegan Harper 0-1, Shae Earley 0-1, Aliya Morrow 1-2, Taelynn Miller 0-1, Monroe Spoja 0-1, Natalie Beck 0-2.
BUTTE HIGH (16-7) — Brianna Ossello 0-2, Brittney Tierney 1-2, Jenna Maroney 1-2, Taylor Huff 2-3, Kaidy McClafferty 1-3, MacKenzie Tutty 0-0, Emma Cox 1-3, Aubree Corcoran 0-0, Kennedi Ferriter 0-2, Trisha Ericson 2-3, Madison Joseph 1-1.
Extra-base hits — HR — Huff (7).
Runs batted in —Skyview 0, Butte High 8 (Huff 5, Maroney 1, McClafferty 1, Ericson 1).
Butte High 16, Billings Skyview 10
Butte High batted on the top of the inning as the visitor in the best-of-three playoff format and the Bulldogs looked like they might just cruise on the momentum gained in the first inning on to a fairly easy sweep.
They were ahead 4-0 before Skyview even batted. Tierney rapped a one-out double to center field and Maroney walked. Huff cleared the bags with a three-run homer over the center-field fence. McClafferty followed with a blast over the fence in left-center as the Bulldogs went back-to-back while building the 4-0 advantage.
The Falcons trimmed it to 4-3 in their half of the first. They punched three singles to go with a Butte High error with two runs scoring on a Nafts base hit and another on the first of two Ellis sacrifice flies.
The Bulldogs, though, made it a 9-3 spread with five runs in the third. Ferriter and Ericson began the inning with singles and Ossello drew a one-out walk. Ferriter sped home on a wild pitch. Tierney walked to reload the bases. Peters relieved Harper and got an flyball out before Huff unloaded her grand slam over the left-field fence.
Singles by Chartier and Nafts set up Ellis’ second sac fly as Skyview took a run back in the third.
The Bulldogs added to their total with six runs in the fourth for a 15-4 command. Ferriter worked a one-out walk, but was erased on a fielder’s choice. Brooke Raiha and Ossello walked to fill the bags. Ericson came home on a wild pitch just before Tierney was hit by a pitch to again pack the sacks. Maroney singled in two runs. Huff walked and Tierney sprinted home on the fourth-ball wild pitch. Harper went back to the pitcher’s circle to spell Peters and gave up a two-run double by McClafferty to left field.
Singles by Ferriter and, two outs later, Ossello, increased Butte High’s margin to 16-4 in the top of the fifth. The Falcons were facing the end of their season. However, they toughened up and tried to rally back.
“Skyview is a good-hitting team and, sooner or later, good hitters will get to the pitcher,” Stosich said.
Two consecutive walks opened the Falcon half of the inning. After a fielder’s choice, Nafts singled in a run and Ellis parked a three-run homer over the center field fence. A flyout and groundout finished the inning.
Butte High was held scoreless in the top of the sixth and Skyview came up feeling the momentum change. Taelynn Miller singled to right field and an error led to runners being on first and second. After an out, another error loaded the bases. Chartier then clubbed a flyball to deep left-center field. Ericson and Joseph converged on it and tangled up with each other and the fence. They fell, tumbling and sprawling entangled and somehow Joseph had snared the fly, then flung the ball toward the infield. Huff took the throw and then rifled a shot to Cox at the plate. One run scored on the sacrifice, but Cox got the tag down on Beck for the third out before the next Falcon runner got to the plate.
“I just tried to get it in as fast as I could,” said Joseph, who spent the day successfully patrolling a wide center field. “I couldn’t see who the cut was. Taylor? My hat was down over my eyes.”
Butte High was retired in order in the seventh and took a 16-9 margin into the bottom of the inning.
Ellis singled with one out and ran to second on a passed ball. McClafferty caught Morrow looking at strike three, but Harper singled home Ellis. Miller then reached on an error. Ferriter, though, fielded Beck’s groundball and tossed to Ossello at first base to end the game and Skyview’s season.
McClafferty struck out four and walked two. Skyview pitchers issued 11 walks and fanned five batters.
Butte High 405 610 0 — 16 12 4
Skyview 301 041 1 — 10 10 0
Kaidy McClafferty and Emma Cox. Raegan Harper, Autumn Peters (3), Harper (4) and Taelynn Miller. W — McClafferty (16-4). L — Harper.
BUTTE HIGH (17-7) — Brianna Ossello 2-3, Brittney Tierney 1-3, Jenna Maroney 1-4, Taylor Huff 2-2, Kaidy McClafferty 2-4, Bradie Lester 0-0, Emma Cox 0-4, MacKenzie Tutty 0-0, Jaden Cleveland 0-1, Kennedi Ferriter 2-3, Trisha Ericson 2-5, Madison Joseph 0-4, Brooke Raiha 0-1.
SKYVIEW (4-14) — Kaylee Kannegieser 1-3, Ashlynn Copinga 1-3, Klaire Morris 0-0, Skyler Chartier 1-3, Skyler Meagher 0-0, Breezy Nafts 3-4, Jessie Ellis 2-2, Aliya Morrow 0-4, Raegan Harper 1-3, Shae Earley 0-1, Taelynn Miller 1-3, Monroe Spoja 0-1, Natalie Beck 0-3.
Extra-base hits — 2B —Tierney, McClafferty. HR — Huff 2 (8,9), McClafferty (4), Ellis.
Runs batted in — Butte High 13 (Huff 7, McClafferty 3, Maroney 2, Ossello 1), Skyview 10 (Ellis 5, Nafts 3, Chartier 1, Harper 1).