By Bill Foley
Do not expect the Butte Central softball team to be a wrecking crew early in the season.
That, at least, is a disclaimer from second-year Maroon head coach Bill “Chunky” Thatcher as his team approaches its first two games of the season.
“We’ll probably get beat up early,” Thatcher said. “We’re playing two really good teams right away.”
Late in the season, however, Thatcher is expecting his Maroons to be a team to reconned with.
“I think we’re going to be alright by the end of the year,” Thatcher said. “We’re going get stronger as we go.”
Saturday’s competition will be particularly strong. Columbia Falls won a pair of games at the Class A State tournament last May at Stodden Park. Thatcher said the Pirates and WildKats both bring back a lot of experience.
“It will be good to go up there and see some live pitching and see if we can swing the bat,” Thatcher said. “We’re just going to show up, swing the bat and see what happens.”
The Maroons have 14 players on their roster, but a good chunk of them lack experience. One player is limited to junior varsity games because she is a recent transfer.
Central lost third baseman Maddi Kump and ace pitcher Maci Reopelle to graduation. They also lost sophomore Kathryn Lalicker to a knee injury suffered late in the basketball season.
That, Thatcher said, is a big loss because Lalicker played a solid outfield last season as the Maroons qualified for the State tournament.
Senior Sofee Thatcher, the daughter of the coach, missed a lot of last season with an illness. She is back at full strength, and she will see the majority of her time in the pitchers’ circle.
Thatcher will switch off with junior Hattie Mehring, a newcomer to the team, as the starting pitcher. Both pitchers will also play center field for the Maroons.
With Lalicker out, Coach Thatcher plans to move senior Brenna Foley from second base to right field, at least for now. Sophomore Renee Creekmore, who gained experience as a freshman, will play left field.
Junior Jaeden Berger will move to third place, junior Brooke Badovinac will man shortstop, sophomore Cloe Stillwagon will play second, and senior Maggie Stimatz will play first base.
Junior Mia Keeley will again be behind the plate at catcher.
Focus Arunklinsukhon, a junior exchange student, is also out for the team, along with sophomore Angelina O’Rourke and freshmen Krista Winnings, Amanda Wheelock and Vanessa West. Wheelock, who moved in from Deer Lodge, can only play junior varsity this season.
Coach Thatcher said he is happy with all the girls out for the team.
“Some of them never played, and they’re busting their butts for me,” he said, adding that Lalicker will serve as the team’s student manager.
“She’s going to try to get us some spirt in the dugout,” he said.
The Maroons plan to play a junior varsity schedule this season, even if it means playing seniors in the sub-varsity game.
“I’ve got to get those other kids playing time,” the coach said.
The Maroons open Southwestern A play April 9 at Stevensville. They head to Dillon on April 12.
Central’s first home game will be April 21 against Corvallis. BC will host the Combo Invitational May 13-14, and the Class A State tournament is May 26-28 in Hamilton.
The Maroons will need finish in the top three of the conference to qualify for State. Thatcher said that will not be easy.
The conference includes Corvallis Frenchtown, Hamilton, Dillon, East Helena and Stevensville.
With assistant coaches John Thatcher, Amanda Badovinac and Jamie Reopelle back for a second year, Chunky Thatcher said the Maroons will have a fun time trying to be one of those teams.
“We’re in a tough conference, but we’re going to compete,” the coach said. “I’m excited about it.”