Bulldog softball aims for return to State

Another year older, Butte High’s softball team hits the diamond Friday to start the 2013 season.

The Bulldogs, looking to bounce back from a disappointing ending to last year’s season, will play four games at the Great Falls Jamboree Friday. Each game will be on an hour and 15 minute time limit. Action starts at 11:30 a.m.

Butte High seeks a return trip to the Class AA State tournament. Butte High failed to qualify for the big dance for the first time in seven years last season, when the Bulldogs were just a year removed from their latest State championship.

“Last year was the youngest team we ever had,” said Butte High coach Steve Stosich, who is heading into his eighth year leading the Bulldogs. “We’ve got a lot more experience. We should hit better, we should field better, we should pitch better.”

The 2013 Bulldogs have four seniors on the roster, led by captains Hattie Thatcher and Katey Walsh.

The team also brings back its top two pitchers from a year ago — juniors Jessica Robertson and Bobbie Osterman — and a roster littered with players from the Butte Senior Girls All-Star team that earned a trip to Delaware for the World Series last August.

“I’m excited,” Stosich said. “I think the girls are ready to play. The girls have worked hard. They put the time in during the offseason.”

The Bulldogs, though, will be hitting an actual softball field for just the second time of the spring. Butte High’s first outside practice was set for Thursday at revamped Stodden Park.

Robertson is Butte High’s No. 1 pitcher. She missed Butte High’s playoff series loss to Great Falls High with a concussion.

“She’s had a great winter,” Stosich said. “She’s throwing a little harder and hitting her spots. I look for her to have a strong season.”

Osterman is the No. 2 pitcher. Juniors Baylee Thatcher and Ashton LaFond and sophomores Justyce Connole and Amanda Spear give the Bulldogs solid pitching depth throughout the program.

Hattie Thatcher, the anchor of the outfield in center, is a two-time All-State selection. Stosich calls Thatcher the “nucleus ” of the team.

Who will play on either side of Thatcher is still a question, the coach said.

Players potentially filling those spots include LaFond, Connole, juniors Megan Ingersol, Kendall Alley, Haley Henderson and Morgan Bagley and sophomore Ashten McCloskey.

“We have some people who can really run,” Stosich said. “The only lock out there is Hattie.”

McCloskey will likely play second base, Stosich said. “She’s got great hands, great feet and she understands the game,” the coach said. “She’s been taught well.”

The rest of the infield will depend on who is the catcher. Last year’s starting catcher, Ingersol, had surgery on her thumb in the fall, and Stosich said she’ll be brought along slowly.

Ideally, Stosich said sophomore Mariah Michelotti will take over behind the plate on a regular basis. Walsh and sophomore Amanda Casagranda could also be in the mix, as could injured sophomore Bethany McLean. McLean will miss the first part of the season after dislocating her elbow late in the basketball season.

Walsh is the returning starter at shortstop, while Baylee Thatcher is the returning third baseman. First base will be handled by Osterman when she’s not pitching.

Michelotti might also see time at first base, third base or shortstop. “We need her on the field because she’s such a good bat. She’s a good fielder, too,” Stosich said.

Having Michelotti on the field frees up a designated hitting spot of senior Nikki Guizzo. Senior Audriana Baker and sophomore Shealyn Hafer will fill utility roles in the infield.

Sophomore’s Ellie Hoffenbacker, McKenzie Joseph and Tristan Walks and freshman Isabelle Bonney, Abby Burke, MacKensie Daily and Erika Spear are also on Butte High roster, which Stosich says in interchangeable.

In seven years at Butte High, Stosich compiled a 112-58 overall record. He’s seen a player achieve All-State honors 21 times.

Stosich is assisted by his son, Ryan, who is in charge of the catchers and outfielders. Assistant Eric Mankins is the pitching coach, while Mike Anderson is in charge of the infield.

Corey Cutler leads the junior varsity team. Steve Schulte also assists for the Bulldogs.

“I would put this staff up against any staff,” Stosich said. “These guys are as good as they come.”

The Bulldogs’ first home game is Tuesday at 2 p.m. against Missoula Big Sky.

Butte High will be playing on a brand-new infield at Stodden Park. Fields No. 2 and 3 have been completely redone. Butte-Silver Bow Crews dug down 27 inches to a drainage system that is topped by crushed brick.

The fields are expected to be able to withstand much more rain and snow than in the past.

Also new to Field No. 3, where the varsity plays, are new dugouts that are bigger and have cement floors. The renovation of the softball complex will continue this summer.

Butte High’s first Eastern AA game is April 12 at Billings West. The Class AA State tournament is May 24-26 in Great Falls.