By Bill Foley
Butte High’s softball team will open the 2021 season at 1 p.m. Friday against Billings Senior in Billings.
The forecast for the Magic City that day calls for sunny skies and a high of 74 degrees.
If only it was that nice the last time Butte High’s softball team headed to Billings.
Instead, Butte High could not get off the bus as the first Eastern AA Divisional tournament in 2019 was rained out. In a cruel twist, the cancellation meant only the top four teams in the regular season advanced to the Class AA State tournament in Butte.
There, the Bulldogs could only watch teams that they knew they could at least compete with battle at Stodden Park. Then, of course, COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 season.
Butte High coach Ryan Stosich, who is entering his seventh year in charge of the Bulldogs, said his team is not too caught up in the past as it enters the new season.
“You’ve got to deal with what you’ve got, and put your best foot forward,” Stosich said.
Nearly two years removed from that injustice, the Bulldogs are primed to take control of their own destiny as they eye a trip to Kalispell for the May 27-29 Class AA State tournament.
The Bulldogs switched conferences after the 2018-19 school year, and the Western AA Divisional is May 20-21 in Helena.
While weather and a Stodden Park field that has not yet recovered from winter have kept the Bulldogs practicing mostly inside, Stosich likes what he sees from his Bulldogs so far.
“We’re looking alright,” he said. “We’re getting as much done as we can in the gym. I’m expecting good things out of these girls. The attitudes have been good.”
Butte High brings a nice mix of youth and experience into the season. The Bulldogs have 24 players out for the team.
That includes seven seniors and four juniors. MacKenzie Tutty and McCaul McCarthy highlight the senior class. Tutty, the center fielder, has basically been starting since her freshman season. McCarthy emerged as the Bulldog ace as a sophomore.
“We’ve got a good returning senior class, and everybody has been busting their butt,” Stosich said.
McCarthy will hold down the No. 1 pitching spot again this season. She will be backed up classmate Madison Skeel and sophomore Rian Ferriter.
“She’s got a good attitude this year, and we’re expecting good things from us,” Stosich said of McCarthy. The coach said she is the clear ace, but Skeel and Ferriter can more than hold their own in the circle.
“Ryan Ferriter is pushing both of them. She throws pretty hard,” Stosich said. “It’s good to have a little competition and have the girls push each other.”
Whichever pitcher is in the circle, she will mostly be throwing to senior Dylan Duffy. She takes over the primary catcher duties.
“She’s solid with what she does and she tells you what she thinks,” Stosich said of his backstop. “She puts in the time.”
Junior Kodie Hoagland will anchor the infield at shortstop, a position she took over as a freshman.
“She’s solid,” Stosich said. “She might be one of the best shortstops in the state.”
Junior Jordyn Bolton and senior Mia Antonioli will vie for playing time at second base. Ferriter will start at third base, where she will be backed up by Duffy. Skeel will start at first base. McCarthy could also see time at first and even second.
Seniors Aubree Corcoran, left, and Jaycee Burke, right, will flank Tutty in a very athletic outfield.
Bolton and Burke could also see time behind the plate.
Juniors Joscelyn Cleveland and Pieper Joseph figure to see a lot of varsity time on a Bulldog roster that includes sophomores Bryn Godbout, Wisdom Nanninen, Maddi Jonart, Cami Kautzman, Korynn Paul and Grace Vincent.
The Bulldogs have five freshmen in Taylor Drakos, Dacelyn Lafon, Kamber Leary, Ashby Lee and Natalie Lynch.
Stosich again will be assisted by his father Steve, who coached nine seasons as head coach before Ryan took over the program. Eric Mankins is back as pitching coach on a staff that includes Travis Johnson, Kelly Ferriter, Steve Schulte and recent Bulldog Brianna Ossello.
Butte High will play a doubleheader at Belgrade on April 8 before playing its home opener April 10 against Helena High. The Bulldogs will play a 20-game regular-season schedule that wraps up May 14 at Kalispell Glacier.
For now, though, the Bulldogs are focused on Senior. After practicing inside and catching some freezing fly balls on the turf at Naranche Stadium, they are also looking forward to some nice weather when they head to Billings this time.
“We might melt in Billings on Friday,” Stosich said, “but that’s alright.”