LaFond blast lifts Bulldogs to win

The message was loud and clear Thursday afternoon at Stodden Park. The Bulldogs don’t go quietly.

Junior right fielder Ashton LaFond belted a three-run walk-off, home run to cap Butte High’s comeback as the Bulldogs beat Belgrade 7-4 in a non-conference softball game.

“We don’t give up,” LaFond said. “We don’t give up.”

LaFond was emotional after her hero’s welcome at home plate following the game winning blast in the bottom of the eighth inning in a game scheduled for seven.

“It was my first home run,” LaFond said. “First one. Ever. I hit one at practice one time, but I don’t count that.”

Her first career dinger put an exclamation point on Butte High’s first win of the year. It came two days after the Bulldogs saw an improbable six-run rally in the eighth inning come up one run short.

“I guess that’s perseverance,” Butte High coach Steve Stosich said.

LaFond was the last out in Tuesday’s loss, hitting a line drive to the center fielder’s glove.

Thursday, she never gave the outfielder a chance, roping a 0-1 Kristina West pitch over the left fielder Autumn Rollins and the fence.

“I was just hoping for a hit, but I’ll take a home run,” LaFond said. “I was our last one up in our previous game. This time I was ready to get a hit.”

Butte High scored five runs — all with two out — in the bottom of the eighth.

Belgrade right fielder Skyla Neubauer hit a two-run single, scoring pinch runner Kindall Bethke and Rachel Salsbury, to put the Panthers up 4-2 in the top of the inning.

After two outs on three pitches to start the bottom of the eighth, the Bulldogs didn’t panic. Sophomore catcher Maria Michelotti,  junior third baseman Baylee Thatcher and senior designated hitter Nikki Guizzo, aka “The Geezer,” singled. Guizzo’s single scored Michelotti.

Bobbie Osterman reached and pinch runner Bethany McLean scored on Belgrade’s only error of the game.

Two pitches later, the Bulldogs were bouncing at home plate. Pinch runner Haley Henderson and Osterman scored on LaFond’s home run.

“We stuck with her,” Stosich said of LaFond, who was 1 for 6 on the season before the walk-off shot. “She hit well in practice.”

The home run helped make a winner of Jessica Robertson, who pitched the distance, striking out six and walking two.

Robertson and the Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when senior center fielder Hattie Thatcher singled and scored on a two-out single by Michelotti.

The Panthers battled back, taking a 2-1 lead on RBI singles by West and shortstop Taylor Johnson.

Butte High senior shortstop Katey Walsh hit a no-doubt home run to left-center to tie the game in the sixth inning.

Michelotti, Guizzo and Baylee Thatcher each had two singles in Butte High’s 10-hit attack. Osterman added a single.

West, Rollins and Allison Alstrom each poked a pair of hits for Belgrade, last year’s runner up at the Class A State tournament. Rollins hit a double.

The Bulldogs, who committed two errors, saw some outstanding defensive plays behind Robertson. Ashten McCloskey snagged a line drive to rob Rollins in the seventh inning. She was also part of a relay — in between Michelotti and Baylee Thatcher — to gun down Skyla Neubauer for a key out at third base in the eighth.

“This helps us a lot,” Stosich said of the win. “This is still a young team, even with Hattie and Katie. That’s our first win, so it’s a good start to our season. It will give us some momentum.”

The Bulldogs (1-1) will try to build on that momentum Saturday when they play Helena High and Helena Capital in non-conference games in Helena.

Butte High’s first Eastern AA games are next Friday and Saturday when they travel to Billings to take on West and Skyview.

Belgrade                     000  020  02 — 4  10  1
Butte High                  001  001  05 — 7  10  2

Kristina West and Taylor Hill; Jessica Robertson and Maria Michelotti. W — Robertson (1-1). L — West.
BELGRADE — West 2-4, Autumn Rollins 2-4, Taylor Johnson 1-4, Hill 1-3, Kindall Bethke 0-0, Rachel Salsbury 1-2, Hannah Goulet 0-1, Skyla Neubauer 1-4, Taylor Salsbury 1-3, Madison Cade 0-1, Judy Taylor 1-3.
BUTTE HIGH (1-1) — Hattie Thatcher 1-4, Ashten McCloskey 0-3, Katey Walsh 1-4, Michelotti 2-4, Baylee Thatcher 2-4, Bethany McLean 0-0, Nikki Guizzo 2-4, Bobbie Osterman 1-3, Ashten LaFond 1-4, Justyce Connole 0-1, Kendall Alley 0-2.
HR — Walsh, LaFond. 2B — Rollins. RBIs — Neubauer 2, Johnson, West; LaFond 3, Walsh, Guizzo, Michelotti .


Butte High pitcher Jessica Robertson makes the catch, while colliding with catcher Mariah Michelotti, to end the top of the fourth inning.
Katey Walsh celebrates the win with her fan club, Willy Shea, left, and Joey Blunt.