Central won 7 of 9 down the stretch to qualify for State
At the end of April, the suggestion that Butte Central would qualify for the Class A State tournament might have gotten you an eye roll.
Maybe even a laugh.
The Maroons limped home from the April 29-30 Frenchtown tournament after an 0-4 performance dropped the team to 1-9.
The month of May, however, has belonged to the Maroons. Not only will BC be among the 12 teams at State Thursday in Hamilton, the Maroons enter the tournament as a team on fire.
Central went 7-2 down the stretch, winning one high-pressure game after another to qualify as the No. 3 seed from the Southwestern A at 8-11 overall and 6-6 in league play. The reward is a first-round date with defending state champion Polson, the No. 2 seed for the Northwestern A.
That game will be played at 1 p.m. on Field No. 1. The winner moves on to take on Northwestern A champion Havre at 5 p.m. The loser heads to Friday’s loser-out play. (Bracket)
Polson beat Central 4-1 when the teams met on the first day of the season, which was March 26 in Polson.
Several factors come into play in Central’s rise from the ashes.
First, senior pitcher Sofee Thatcher returned after missing seven games with a knee injury. She also fit nicely into the No. 2 hole, hitting .500 with four doubles and a triple over BC’s final nine games.
Thatcher, who is hitting .488 overall, is 8-3 in the pitcher’s circle.
The return of Thatcher also helped stabilize a lineup — offensively and defensively — that has improved steadily as the season went on.
Junior Hattie Mehring joined the high school team for the first time this season and was thrust into pitching duties with Thatcher out. She has since taken over as the leadoff hitter.
Junior shortstop Brooke Badovinac has had yet another sensational season. She enters the State tournament batting .557 with three home runs, three triples and seven doubles.
Mia Keeley, BC’s junior catcher, has been on a hot streak, too. She is batting .411 with two homers and four doubles.
She smoked a three-run home run to jumpstart BC in Friday’s huge win over Stevensville at Stodden Park.
Junior third baseman Jaeden Berger and senior second baseman Brenna Foley give the Maroons solid defense and a reliable bat. Senior Maggie Stimatz has played tough defense and first base, and she is overdue for a big hit that BC fans saw many times in 2021.
Mehring anchors the outfield in center. Sophomore Renee Creekmore starts in left, and classmate Cloe Stillwagon plays right. Creekmore produced six hits over BC’s last seven games. Stillwagon is coming off a two-hit performance in the win over Stevensville.
Junior Focus Arunklinsukhon, sophomore Angelina O’Rourke and freshmen Krista Winnings, Amanda Wheelock and Vanessa West round out the lineup for coach Bill “Chunky” Thatcher’s maroons.
Thatcher is assisted by his brother John, Amanda Badovinac and Jamie Reopelle. Sophomore Kathryn Lalicker, who suffered a knee injury during the basketball season, is serving as manager. She was the starting center fielder last year.
Columbia Falls, Billings Central and Frenchtown join Havre with first-round byes. First-round games see Frenchtown taking on Park and Corvallis battling Ronan at 11 a.m. Laurel will play Glendive in the other 1 p.m. game.
The Maroons are looking for their first title since they won their second straight in 2000.