As Butte Central opens the softball season Saturday in Polson, the Maroons only have 13 players on the roster.
That isn’t enough for the Maroons to field both a junior varsity team to go along with a varsity squad. As far as BC third-year head coach Kelci Thatcher is concerned, however, the roster is plenty big enough for the Maroons to make a deep run this season.
“They’re a contender,” Thatcher said of her Maroons. “They can compete for a place at State, no doubt.”
Butte Central will play Polson at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Polson Softball Complex. The Maroons will then play stay in Polson to take on Columbia Falls at 4 p.m.
Like the basketball team that placed second at the Class A State tournament three weeks ago, the BC softball squad is a team without a senior. The Maroons, though, have no shortage of leadership. They also have no shortage of desire.
“They’re competitors, and they want to win,” Thatcher said.
The team’s state championship hopes likely rest on the shoulders of pitcher Teresa Piazzola. The fireballer earned All-State honors for the Maroons a year ago despite pitching through a back and hip injury. Piazzola enters her third year as the BC ace coming off a 9-4 record.
Thatcher said Piazzola, who didn’t play basketball this season to focus on being ready for softball, is better than ever.
“She played through a lot of pain and adversity last year, and I admire that,” Thatcher said. “She has grown immensely. Her and McKenzie Gallagher and Corbyn Holm, they were in the gym every night pitching and hitting, and it is showing. It’s amazing to see the transformation in a year.”
Gallagher, a junior who will play second base and pitch, and Holm, a sophomore catcher, also elected to forego basketball to focus on the diamond.
“I admire them for making the hard decision to not play a sport, but it is paying off for them through the first two weeks of practice,” Thatcher said.
Gallagher, who helped lead the Maroons to the state tournament with Piazzola hurt at the Southwestern A Divisional tournament last season, has been working with BC assistant Dean Marquardt, Thatcher said, and she has added some speed to her pitches.
“She’s just so consistent,” Thatcher said. “She hits her spots, she’s confident, she’s relaxed. She’s a good girl to have in that No. 2 role.”
From top to bottom, Thatcher likes her roster, even though Shelby Paffhausn, Cassidy McGree, Mikayla Boggs, Courtney Thomas and Rylee Green were lost graduation and Kate Ossello opted not to play softball this season.
Defensively, Thatcher said BC’s starting outfield will stack up against anybody.
Freshman Kloie Thatcher, a first-cousin of the coach, takes over in centerfield. She’ll be flanked by junior Shawnee Hjelt in left and sophomore Emily St. John in right.
“They could be the fastest, most athletic outfield there is,” Thatcher said.
Hjelt is coming off a second-team all-conference season. She earned all-conference as a utility player as a freshman.
The infield features sophomore Mollie Peoples at first base and classmate Taylor Wahl at short. Both earned all-conference honors a year ago.
When Gallagher pitches, Hjelt will take over at second base, while freshman Megan Michelotti will play third base. Hjelt will be the backup catcher.
Hjelt, the jack of all trades, will also lead off for the Maroons. That is a position she has held since stepping in for an injured player and giving the Maroons a spark during her freshman season
“In the last two years, that’s the best decision I made as a coach, putting her at the top,” Thatcher said. “She goes in confident. If she doesn’t get on right away, she doesn’t get down. Every at bat is a new at bat. As a leadoff, you can’t ask for anything more.”
Kloie Thatcher will bat in the No. 2 hole. She’ll be followed by Peoples, Wahl, Holm, Piazzola, Michelotti, Gallagher and St. John.
Coach Thatcher said she is happy to get Piazzola’s bat back in the lineup. The Maroons had to use a designated player to bat for the injured pitcher much of last season.
“I’m excited to have her back on both ends,” Thatcher said. “She’s a stud all around.”
The Maroons are also counting on contributions from junior Kara Barnett and freshmen Hannah Williamson, Desaray Blunt and Kassidy Criscuolo.
The lack of snow in January and February has also been beneficial to the Maroons, who typically spend most of their early-season practices inside a gym. So far this season, the Maroons have been getting work in outside, and that is paying off, Thatcher said.
“This is the first time since I can remember that we’ve been out two full weeks. It’s nice,” the coach said. “The girls have hit off of live pitching and we’ve had good infield. We haven’t had this in years.”
Thatcher will again be assisted by her sister, Sarah Stepan, Katie English and Marquardt. New to the staff this year is Luke Stajcar, whom Thatcher called the team’s “hitting guru.”
After Saturday’s games, the Maroons will be off until Tuesday, April 7 when they head to Stevensville for their Southwestern A opener.
BC, which went 17-10 (9-1 in conference) with a win at the State tournament a year ago, will play its first home games on Saturday, April 11 when Hamilton and Corvallis come to town.
The Maroons will play their home games on Field 2 at Stodden Park. 2 comments