By Bruce Sayler
Favored to win the state AA high school softball tournament before the first pitch, Great Falls High wound up needing three wins on Saturday, the final day, to accomplish the feat.
Annie Toon was supported by three home runs and pitched a three-hit shutout Bison beat Billings Senior 7-0 in the last game of this year’s tournament, played at Stodden Park.
Great Falls opened the day with a 13-0, five-inning victory over consolation bracket survivor Billings West in a loser-out contest. West ended up with the third-place trophy. The Bison then edged Billings Senior, which had been previously unbeaten in the tournament, 5-4. Senior had defeated Great Falls 8-5 the day before in the winners’ bracket semifinal game.
With the 5-4 win, the Bison forced the second championship game and captured the biggest trophy with the 7-0 triumph.They completed a 23-2 season.
It marked the fourth straight year for Great Falls High earning State AA softball trophy. The Bison were runners-up in 2017 and placed third in 2016. They won the title in 2013, giving them three crowns this decade.
Eastern AA Conference teams swept the top three places in this tournament.
The tournament was held in Butte for the first time since 1997. It is scheduled to be played in Missoula next year while Butte plays host to the State A tourney.
Great Falls High 7, Billings Senior 0
Sarah Conway led off the game with a home run over the center-field fence and Great Falls was on its way to its championship repeat. The Bison beat Missoula Sentinel for last year’s crown.
Great Falls threatened a big first inning as Toon walked to follow Conway. After an out, Rachel Porter singled to center before Bronc freshman ace Kennedy Venner relieved Jaida Ontiveros in the pitching circle and coaxed the Bison into two flyouts to quell the uprising.
Great Falls later fluffed its 1-0 edge with four runs in the third inning before finishing scoring with two in the fifth.
Toon started the third by being hit in the pitching arm by a pitch. She was replaced by courtesy runner Gracie Lins. One out later, Rachel Porter singled to center and also left for a courtesy runner, Maggie Bell. Madylynn Ray knocked a single up the middle to drive in Lins, then Shea LaRocque unloaded a three-run homer to left field and the Bison had a 5-0 command.
Toon, who pitched three games covering 19 innings on the day, held Billings Senior hitless until Jensen Keller clouted a two-out single in the fourth inning. She was stranded when the next batter grounded out.
Ray ripped a two-run homer in the fifth inning. Morgan Sunchild had reached on an error to start the inning. Ray’s blast created the final 7-0 spread.
Toon, a junior, allowed two hits to Keller, a double and a single, and an infield hit to Jaida Ontiveros. She struck out six batters and walked none. Keller doubled to start the last of the seventh, but Toon finished the Broncs on a strikeout, popout and flyout.
Billings Senior wound up 16-8 for the season.
Great Falls High 104 020 0 — 7 10 0
Billings Senior 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
Anna Toon and Rachel Porter. Jaida Ontiveros, Kennedy Venner (1), Cassidy Venner (6) and Lauren Gordon. W — Toon. L — Ontiveros.
GREAT FALLS — Sarah Conway 1-4, Anna Toon 1-2, Gracie Lins 0-0, Morgan Sunchild 1-4, Rachel Porter 2-3, Maggie Bell 0-0, Madylynn Ray 2-4, Shea LaRocque 2-4, Kasie Logan 0-0, Skylar Anthony 1-2, Ryen Palmer 0-2, Stephanie Jablonski 0-0, Kylee Stoll 0-4.
BILLINGS SENIOR — Laurel Kilgore 0-3, Lauren Gordon 0-3, Jensen Keller 2-3, Dacee Zent 2-3, Cassidy Venner 0-3, Kara Conway 0-3, Kennedy Venner 0-2, Allison Nyquist 0-2.
Extra-base hits — 2B —Keller.
HR —S. Conway, LaRocque, Ray.
Runs batted in — Great Falls 7 (Ray 3, LaRocque 3, S. Conway 1), Senior 0.
Great Falls High 5, Billings Senior 4
Billings Senior took the first lead and almost retook it to win it, but Great Falls High persevered in the intensely played contest. The Broncs scored in the first inning when Lauren Gordon crashed a home run to left field after Laurel Kilgore walked to begin the game. The Broncs put two more runners aboard in the inning before Toon retired the side on a comebacker.
Rachel Porter led off the Great Falls second with a base hit up the middle. She went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Madylynn Ray and to third on single by Shea LaRocque. Ryen Palmer then hit a bouncer to Senior third baseman Kara Conway, who chased Porter toward home. Porter won the race and beat the flip to catcher Gordon, scoring the first Bison run.
Gordon clubbed another home run, a leadoff shot over center field, for a 3-1 Bronc edge in the third inning.
The Bison tied the score in the fourth on Skylar Anthony’s two-out, two-run homer over right-center after Ray had started the inning with a single.
They went ahead with two runs in the top of the seventh when Toon led off with a walk and, one out later, rode home on Porter’s home run over the center-field fence.
Gordon started the bottom of the seventh with a single lined off the right-field fence. She went to third base an out when Dacee Zent’s ground ball was misplayed. Cassidy Venner hit a single to right field, driving in Gordon. Zent tried to score on an error in the outfield, but the throw home caught her short of the plate. Kara Conway then bounced a comebacker to Toon to end the game and bring on the championship playoff. Venner was stranded at third base.
Great Falls High 010 200 2 — 5 8 4
Billings Senior 201 000 1 — 4 9 0
Anna Toon and Rachel Porter. Kennedy Venner and Lauren Gordon. W — Toon. L — K. Venner.
GREAT FALLS — Sarah Conway 0-3, Anna Toon 1-3, Morgan Sunchild 0-4, Rachel Porter 3-4, Maggie Bell 0-0, Madylynn Ray 1-3, Shea LaRocque 1-3, Gracie Lins 0-0, Ryen Palmer 0-3, Skylar Anthony 1-2, Kylee Stoll 1-2.
BILLINGS SENIOR —Laurel Kilgore 1-3, Lauren Gordon 4-4, Jensen Keller 0-4, Dacee Zent 2-4, Alexis Smith 0-0, Cassidy Venner 2-4, Kara Conway 0-3, Jaida Ontiveros 0-3, Kennedy Venner 0-3, Allison Nyquist 0-3.
Extra-base hits — HR — Anthony, Porter, Gordon 2.
Runs batted in — Great Falls 4 (Porter 2, Anthony 2), Senior 4 (Gordon 3, C. Venner 1).
Great Falls High 13, Billings West 0 (5 Innings)
Great Falls High reported for work on Saturday morning intent on putting in a long shift that would end with the championship after being upset by Billings Senior in the previous afternoon’s winners’ bracket semifinal.
The Bison dominated West and left the Golden Bears in third place.
Anna Toon pitched a one-hitter and her teammates finished West off in five innings via the 10-run difference rule.
Billings West’s only hit was a two-out single by Lauren Blaschak in the bottom of the third inning.
Great Falls took a 1-0 first-inning edge as Madylynn Ray delivered a run-scoring single after two-out base hits by Morgan Sunchild and Rachel Porter.
The Bison then erupted for six runs in the second inning and were well in control. Shea LaRocque doubled down the left-field line to start the frame. Skylar Anthony drew a walk. They moved up on a sacrifice by Kylee Stoll. Sarah Conway was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Toon singled in one run and then Sunchild delivered two with a base hit. Porter singled two more home and the sixth run of the inning scored when Ryen Palmer reached on an error.
Sunchild’s sacrifice fly in the third inning made the Great Falls lead 8-0.
The Bison put up four more runs for a 12-0 advantage in the fourth. Anthony singled in two of the runs and Conway belted a two-out, two-run homer.
Ray’s two-out solo home run over left field in the fifth finished the scoring.
Toon then set the Golden Bears down in order on a sliding catch of a flyball by right fielder Anthony, a ground ball to Sunchild at shortstop and on a flyball to center fielder Conway. The 10-plus difference in runs after five innings brought an end to the game.
Great Falls High 161 41x x — 13 14 0
Billings West 000 00x 0 — 0 1 1
Anna Toon and Rachel Porter. Alison Eldridge, Kinzee Koch (3), Eldridge (5) and McKinsey Matthews. W — Toon. L — Eldridge.
GREAT FALLS — Sarah Conway 1-3, Anna Toon 1-4, Morgan Sunchild 2-3, Rachel Porter 2-3, Maggie Bell 0-0, Morgan Sukut 0-1, Madylynn Ray 3-4, Emma Newmack 0-0, Ryen Palmer 0-2, Haileigh Watson 0-0, Shea LaRocque 2-4, Gracie Lins 0-0, Skylar Anthony 2-2, Kasie Logan 0-1, Kylee Stoll 1-2.
BILLINGS WEST —Lauren Blaschak 1-2, Morgan Stoppel 0-2, Kinzee Koch 0-2, McKinsey Matthews 0-2, Chloe Nelson 0-2, Emma Balsam 0-2, Sydney Nelson 0-2, Halle Spring 0-2, Shea Dolan 0-0.
Extra-base hits — 2B — Ray, LaRocque.
HR — Conway, Ray.
Runs batted in — Great Falls 12 (Sunchild 3, Conway 2, Porter 2, Ray 2, Anthony 2, Toon 1), West 0.