Maybe it was having ESP that produced ESPN highlights-like hitting efforts for Butte Central sophomore Shawnee Hjelt on Friday as the Maroons opened their stay in their own LaVerne Combo Invitational high school girls’ softball tournament.
Hjelt’s hitting, a 4-for-4 performance with two doubles, backed some standout pitching by senior Mikayla Boggs as the BC girls beat Billings Central 12-2 at Stodden Park in a game ended in the middle of the fifth inning by the 10-run difference rule.
The win was Butte Central’s seventh in a row. They team played Whitefish later in the day and is scheduled to go up against Laurel and Central A Conference leader Belgrade on Saturday in the 25-team Combo Invitational, which is being held on fields at Stodden Park, Copper Mountain Park and at the Longfellow Complex. All of the Maroons’ games are being played on Field No. 3 at Stodden Park.
“Absolutely, I had a big day at the plate,” Hjelt said while radiating smiles. “I was actually surprised, but really happy.”
She was the designated player and batted first in the Butte Central lineup. Her collection of hits included a single to left in the bottom of the first inning, a double to left in the second, and a line-drive infield hit off the glove of Billings Central pitcher Skyler Rockwell and a two-run double to left-center, both in the fourth inning.
The last double provided Butte Central with the winning margin needed to end the game early.
Finishing early was important, too, as the tournament had gotten behind schedule when lightning caused a one-hour, 10-minute game delay midway through the third inning.
The Maroons took a 5-1 advantage into the bottom of the fourth as Boggs had limited the Rams’ offensive opportunities and slugged a line-shot home run earlier. The senior right-hander has played much of the year as the No. 2 hurler for the Maroons, but a hip injury sidelined sophomore Teresa Piazzola, the usual starter.
Hjelt began the bottom of the fourth with her line drive that caromed off of Rockwell’s glove. Shelby Paffhausen followed with a single to right. Hjelt raced to third base on the hit and Paffhausen soon took second base on a steal.
Taylor Wahl then stroked a flyball to deep left field. It was dropped. Hjelt scored on the sacrifice fly and Paffhausen sped home on the error. Rockwell posted a pair of strikeouts before Rylee Green pounded a liner off the glove of Ram third baseman Sammy McNeely for an infield hit. Wahl scored on the shot. Boggs then reached on an error and Cassidy McGree walked to load the bases. Emily St. John beat out an infield hit that scored a run and kept the bags full. Hjelt then deliver her double into center field that rolled past the defender. Boggs’ courtesy runner, Courtney Thomas, and McGree tallied on the hit and St. John loped home on the error. The play gave the Maroons a 12-1 command before Billings Central got its next at-bats.
“The last one was a changeup, but I knew it was coming,” Hjelt said of the two-run double. “I had three balls and two strikes and I thought it would be a changeup.”
She was on it and mashed it.
Butte Central scored seven runs in the inning and sent 11 batters to the plate.
The Rams tried to rally in the fifth, but fell way short. Aubrey Walter reached on an one-out infield hit and MacKenzie Redman batted a grounder that was fielded in the infield. However, the throw was dropped on a fielder’s choice play and so the Rams had two runners on base with one out. Butte Central tried to pick Walter off third base, but the throw was wide and hopped into left-field foul ground. Walter scored.
Boggs, however, retired the next two Billings Central batters on a groundout and a flyout. Boggs struck out one and walked one in her win.
“It was different without Piazzola,” Hjelt said, agreeing that Boggs turned in a strong performance. “Our defense has been great and everybody is being aggressive at the plate. That helps.”
Butte Central took a 1-0 lead in the last of the first inning as Mollie Peoples clubbed a ground-rule double that hopped the center-field fence, driving in Hjelt, who had singled. The Rams tied the score in the top of the second as Molly Day accepted Boggs’ only walk of the day, then scored two outs later on a base hit to left by McNeely.
The Maroons responded with three runs in their half of the inning. Boggs led off with her blast over the center-field fence. Two outs later, Hjelt doubled to left, then scored as Paffhausen hit a single that bounced past the Billings Central fielder. Paffhausen reached third on the error and came home when Wahl whacked a single to center field.
Corbyn Holm hammered a triple to left-center field to start the bottom of the third inning after the lightning delay. Billings Central center fielder Alison Walter appeared to injure her leg on the plant and pivot as she corralled the ball and tried to throw it to the infield. She needed to be helped off the field and was replaced by Josie Snyder.
Boggs lofted a one-out sacrifice fly to left field that brought Holm home.
Every player in the Maroons’ batting order recorded at least one hit in the 14-hit attack. Paffhausen and Wahl knocked two apiece to back Hjelt’s four.
Aubrey Walter registered two hits for Billings Central. Rockwell pitched the distance. She struck out two batters and walked one. All six of the Rams’ hits were singles.
Billings Central 010 01x x — 2 6 4
Butte Central 131 7xx x — 12 14 3
Skyler Rockwell and Addy Daubert. Mikayla Boggs and Corbyn Holm. W — Boggs. L — S. Rockwell.
BILLINGS CENTRAL — Aubrey Walter 2-3, MacKenzie Redman 1-3, Skyler Rockwell 0-2, Addy Daubert 1-3, Alison Walter 0-2, Josie Snyder 0-0, Molly Day 0-1, Morgan Smith 0-2, Macy Rockwell 0-0, Maggie Meyer 1-2, Sammy McNeely 1-2.
BUTTE CENTRAL — McKenzie Gallagher 0-0, Shawnee Hjelt 4-4, Shelby Paffhausen 2-4, Taylor Wahl 2-2, Mollie Peoples 1-3, Corbyn Holm 1-3, Rylee Green 1-3, Mikayla Boggs 1-2, Courtney Thomas 0-0, Cassidy McGree 1-2, Emily St. John 1-3.
Extra-base hits — 2B — Peoples, Hjelt 2. 3B — Holm. HR — Boggs.
Runs batted in — Billings Central 1 (McNeely); Butte Central 9 (Hjelt 2, Wahl 2, Boggs 2, Peoples 1, Green 1, St. John 1).