The Butte Central softball team has won 11 of its last 14 games as it eyes its first state championship since the Maroons completed their second straight undefeated season in 2000.
Standing in the way of the Maroons (16-8) on the first day of the tournament Thursday at the Polson Softball Complex are two teams that have beaten BC in 2014.
First up is Libby, the No. 3 seed from the Northwestern A. The Maroons and Loggers meet in the first round at 1 p.m. on Field 2. Bracket
Back on the first day of the season, the Loggers beat Butte Central 4-0 in Polson. That game, however, was March 29 when Hannah England struck out seven Maroons.
England and Devon Gallagher smacked three hits apiece while the Maroons mustered just four singles.
Butte Central is a different is a different team. The young Maroons have basically grown up right in front of our eyes as the season went on, and at one time they won nine straight.
The winner of the BC-Libby game will take on Belgrade, the No. 1 seed from the Central A. The Panthers stopped the Butte Central streak, beating the Maroons 8-4 in the finale of the Laverne Combo Invitational May 17 in Butte.
Kristina West, Allie Alstrom and Rylee Cygan each drove in two runs, while Shania Neubauer held BC to four hits in that win.
The Maroons were without sophomore pitcher Teresa Piazzola, who injured her hip two days earlier. BC will likely be without Piazzola again this week after the ace reinjured that hip in the first game of the Southwestern A Divisional tournament in Anaconda.
BC still placed second in that tournament behind the pitching of senior Mikayla Boggs and sophomore McKenzie Gallagher.
The Maroons had multiple offensive and defensive heroes in their run to second place. None was bigger than senior center fielder Shelby Paffhausen, who made a remarkable catch to send the semifinal game against Hamilton to extra innings. She then won the game with an RBI double.
Cassidy McGree, a senior left fielder who was a member of the track team a year ago, scored that winning run and had a break-out tournament. McGree, who was used sparingly during most of the season, had two two-hit games on Saturday.
McGree has emerged as such a weapon for the Maroons that coach Kelci Thatcher moved her up to No. 5 in the batting order by the end of the tournament.
Sophomore second baseman Shawnee Hjelt made some outstanding plays on defense while hitting multiple doubles. Freshman shortstop Taylor Wahl and classmate Mollie Peoples at first base were solid on defense while putting up clutch at bats.
Senior Rylee Green has been a rock at third base, as have freshman Corbyn Holm and sophomore Kate Ossello behind the plate. Ossello also will likely see time in right field, along with Boggs, Gallagher, senior Courtney Thomas and freshman Emily St. John.
With junior pitcher Morgan Ray, last year’s Gatorade Player of the Year for Montana softball, defending champion Frenchtown is the clear-cut favorite to win the tournament.
The Broncs beat Polson, the No. 2 seed from the Northwest A, 2-1 in eight innings in last year’s championship game. That ended Polson’s bid for four straight state titles.
The Maroons seek their fourth title. They won in 1997, 1999 and 2000. The last time BC played in the championship game was 2009, when the Maroons fell to Frenchtown.