By Bruce Sayler
Freshman Jodi Reiter’s catch in right field was probably more descriptive of Butte Central’s softball year than was the 9-3 end-of-season loss the Maroons suffered to Livingston on Friday.
The defeat came in the first loser-out round of the state Class A high school girls’ softball tournament at Stodden Park. A BC team that was hardly expected to reach the state tournament did, played two games there and finished their season with a winning record, 13-11. (Click here for a bracket, scores and stat sheets)
“I’m glad I did it. No regrets,” said Chunky Thatcher, a veteran Butte youth softball coach, completing his first year at the Butte Central helm. “You couldn’t give me a million dollars over seeing the look on that freshman girl’s face after she made her first (high school varsity) catch.”
The flyball off the bat of Livingston’s Shannon Nelson took Reiter to the fence where the young Maroon reached high and made her grab, likely robbing the Ranger leadoff hitter of extra bases. It ended a big, decisive inning for Livingston.
Reiter jumped up and down, holding the ball in her bare hand and waving her glove while cheering I delight and bounding for the team’s dugout.
The look on her face was a little different when she was being sent into the game. Junior regular right fielder Maggie Stimatz was injured chasing a flyball in the top of the first inning. She was sprinting toward the infield in a brisk wind and the ball appeared to skip off the top of her glove and smash into Stimatz’s face. She lay on the ground for several moments before being taken away for a medical exam. She didn’t return to play.
Thatcher had gone into the dugout and told Reiter to get her glvoe and go play right field. Shock was reflected in the hubcaps that seemed to have displaced her eyes. Play, she did.
Thatcher acknowledged the Stimatz injury was a tough happening for the Maroons to overcome and certainly tinged the mood. They were stricken and worried.
“We lost Maggie with her getting hurt right away,” Thatcher said of a player who’d come up with a handful of clutch hits as the season wound down.
A five-run seventh inning by the Rangers sealed BC’s fate after Butte Central was denied the tying run by a controversial call in the bottom of the fifth. Livingston had struck in the top of the fifth to break a 3-all tie and gain a 4-3 edge. Skylar Higgs doubled, went to third on one of five Maroon errors and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ava Malone.
Sofee Thatcher belted a single down the third-base line to lead off the BC fifth. She went to second on an errant throw on the play and then to third on a bad pickoff attempt. Maci Reopelle hit a flyball to right field caught by Erika Haines on the run off her shoetops. Thatcher broke for home. She crossed the plate and Rangers coach Julie Higgs ordered her players to appeal the play. Thatcher was ruled to have left the third-base bag before the catch and called out on the appeal, resulting in a double play. Maddi Kump lined out to left-handed freshman third baseman Maddie Johnson and the inning was over.
Butte Central put two runners aboard with one out in the sixth, but Livingston pitcher Malone coaxed a groundout and a strikeout to end the threat.
In the seventh, the Rangers exploded.
Taylor Young and Skylar Higgs rapped consecutive singles to left field. Both advanced on an error. An out later, Malone delivered a two-run single up the middle. Emily Jesson and Haines followed with base hits and Malone scored. Jesson ran home on a groundout by Kaylee Roberts. Emily Prather then doubled home Haines before Reiter snagged her first varsity flyball catch to get the Maroons out of the inning.
Malone set BC down in order in the bottom of the seventh on a groundout and two flyouts. The Rangers went on to face Corvallis in their next loser-out game. The tournament continued through Saturday.
“We played as well as we could,” Chunky Thatcher said. “We struggled with hitting the ball, with hitting the ball with runners on and we got into trouble chasing the rise ball, popping it up.
“We had a great season. We came into it with six freshmen on the team and four had never really played much softball. We played three games before we even got outside to practice. I had to learn patience so I could keep the kids around.”
The Rangers and the Maroons both scored three runs in the second inning and stayed tied until the fifth.
Livingston’s second started with Malone reaching on an error. She stole second base, got to third on a passed ball and scored the game’s first run by beating a fielder’s choice to the plate. Haines got to first on the play and home on a two-out single by Prather that got loose in the outfield. Nelson singled home Prather.
Butte Central rallied to tie in the bottom half of the frame. Brenna Foley was safe on an infield hit and Reiter was hit by a pitch. Jaeden Berger bashed a double into the left-scenter gap and Foley dashed home. Reiter then scored on a sacrifice fly by Renee Creekmore before a Sofee Thatcher double off the left-field fence knocked in Berger.
Thatcher wound up with a double and single to lead the Butte Central offense. Foley had two singles. Brooke Badovinac and Berger also whacked doubles.
Kump, the third baseman, and Reopelle, the pitcher, played their last game as Maroons Friday. They are the team’s only seniors. Kump made several fine defensive plays with a good glove and strong arm, Reopelle struck out three batters and walked none in her finale. She singled going 1-for-4.
“It’s a sad day,” coach Thatcher said. “We’re losing two good seniors – leaders who kept the kids positive. We appreciate them, we’ll miss them.”
They helped guide the Maroons’ progress, an example pictured in Reiter’s catch.
Thatcher also lauded his assistants – Amanda (Evans) Badovinac, Jamie (Hardesty) Reopelle and, his older brother, John Thatcher. Badovinac and Reopelle were teammates on Butte High’s 1995 state Class AA championship team and daughters of both played on this year’s BC team.
Chunky Thatcher’s youth coaching resume includes a trip to an age-group World Series in Delaware.
“I’m thankful for my assistant coaches,” Thatcher said, “and I’ll say it again – I have the best pitching coach (Reopelle) in the state. She’s positive with them and knows how to joke with them.”
Livingston 030 010 5 — 9 12 3
Butte Central 030 000 0 — 3 7 5
Ava Malone and Marissa Taylor. Maci Reopelle and Mia Keeley. W – Malone. L – Reopelle.
LIVINGSTON – Shannon Nelson 1-5, Taylor Young 1-4, Skylar Higgs 2-4, Marissa Taylor 0-4, Ava Malone 2-3, Emily Jesson 2-4, Erika Haines 1-4, Kaylee Roberts 0-4, Emily Prather 3-4, Maddie Johnson 0-0.
BUTTE CENTRAL (13-11) — Brooke Badovinac 1-4, Sofee Thatcher 2-4, Maci Reopelle 1-4, Maddi Kump 0-2, Mia Keeley 0-3, Brenna Foley 2-3, Maggie Stimatz 0-0, Jodi Reiter 0-2, Jaeden Berger 1-3, Renee Creekmore 0-2, Kathryn Lalicker 0-0.
Extra-base hits – 2B — Higgs, Prather, Badovinac, Berger, Thatcher.
Runs batted in – Livingston 7 (Malone 3, Haines 2, Nelson 1, Prather 1), Butte Central 3 (Thatcher 1, Berger 1, Creekmore 1).