By Bruce Sayler
The coldest 45 degrees you could feel hurried on a constant wind through Stodden Park Friday while Butte Central softball players warmed to the possibilities of postseason.
The Maroons put forth their case for a state Class A tournament berth and pled Mia Conk-a for an 11-1 victory over Stevensville in their last game of the regular season. The wind from the west stalled for a few seconds in the bottom of the first inning, long enough for junior catcher Mia Keeley to slug a three-run homer over the fence in almost straightaway center field for a lead BC never surrendered.
Then, in the top of the second inning, she threw out Stevensville baserunner Olivia Gray with a dart to senior second baseman Brenna Foley for one of the better inning-and-a-half performances by a player in the clutch of state tournament potential.
“There were some doubts in the middle of the year,” Foley, one of the three Butte Central seniors to be honored in the team’s Senior Day festivities prior to the game, said. “But, deep in our hearts, we all love softball and we knew and I knew we’d be here (qualifying for the state tourney).”
Foley, pitcher Sofee Thatcher and first baseman Maggie Stimatz were the seniors recognized with their parents before the opening pitch.
The Maroons needed to sweep their last two games of the regular season to qualify as the third and final seed from the Southwestern A Conference for the state tourney set for next Thursday through Saturday in Hamilton. They beat East Helena 9-3 on the road Tuesday night to create the must-win matchup with Yellowjackets Friday.
“There definitely were some rough patches,” Foley said. “When Sofee got hurt in the first game, we had a rough patch after that. But we got better and better through the year, and all the players started stepping up.”
The completed mission came as no surprise to BC head coach Chunky Thatcher.
“I thought we would pull it off,” he said. “I knew our girls would compete. They compete in every game. And, then we got Sofee back.”
Friday’s game ended with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning on the 10-run difference rule. Butte Central took a 9-1 cushion into its at-bats in the last of the fifth. Renee Creekmore’s leadoff bouncer glanced off the fielder’s glove at third base, allowing the Maroon to reach base. An out later, No. 9 batter Cloe Stillwagon knocked her second hit of the day, an infield hit just out of reach of the fielders. Hattie Mehring singled to load the bases.
Thatcher then singled to left and Creekmore scored, then Brooke Badovinac also banged a base hit to left field and Stillwagon ran home with the final run.
“Our hitting got better and all the girls started getting the bat on the ball,” Chunky Thatcher said. “What we needed was for the seven, eight and nine hitters to get on the base and get us back to the top of the order for us to then score some runs. “
The way the BC girls ended the game served as example, the coach noted.
The improved hitting enhanced the team confidence, coach Thatcher added.
“Earlier in the year, we just didn’t hit it,” he said.
After Stevensville was held scoreless in the first half of the first inning in miserable weather conditions, a theme for games in Butte this softball season, Mehring led off for the Maroons and drew a walk. Thatcher singled to left field. After an out, Keeley laid into the pitch that cleared the bases.
BC added a run in the second inning without a hit. Creekmore reached on an error, speeding all the way to second base on the overthrow. A strikeout followed before Stillwagon bunted a sacrifice toward first base, moving Creekmore to third base. Creekmore threatened to score on a pitch that got away from the catcher, but changed her mind and headed back to third base. The throw was missed by the fielder and Creekmore raced home as the throw rolled toward the dugout.
The Yellowjackets scored their run in the top of the third inning. Speedy Claire Schneiter beat out an infield hit, and scored all the way from first base on a base hit to right-center field by Lin Brushia.
Butte Central sent 11 batters to the plate while erupting for five runs in the bottom of the third – all with two outs. Keeley drew a two-out walk to start the surge. Jaeden Berger also walked and both moved up a bag on a double steal before Keeley sprinted home on a wild pitch. Foley was safe on a booted ground ball that let Berger score from third base.
Foley stole second base and got to third on a wild pitch, running home on a bloop single by Creekmore into short left field. Stimatz worked a walk and Stillwagon smashed a single into center field to pack the sacks. Mehring was hit by a pitch, letting Foley stroll home. Brushia relieved Stevi starter Claire Moody in the pitcher’s circle and Thatcher greeted her with a base hit to left field that drove Stimatz in with the last run of the inning. The eruption gave the Maroons them 9-1 advantage before the game’s early ending.
Sofee Thatcher pitched a four-hitter, yielding only singles, and struck out six batters in five innings. She walked four.
The BC girls finished the regular season with an 8-10 record, including a 6-6 conference mark. Coach Thatcher said the team will likely open tournament play against defending state Class A champion Polson on Thursday at 1 p.m.
“I’m just happy,” he said. “Like I said the other day: a horse with 80-1 odds won the Kentucky Derby. You’ve got to get there to take a run at it. We got there.”
Polson 001 00x x — 1 4 4
Butte Central 315 02x x — 11 9 0
Note – The final run scored with one out In the fifth inning.
Claire Moody, Lin Brushia (3) and Sophie Berning. Sofee Thatcher and Mia Keeley. W – Thatcher. L – Moody.
STEVENSVILLE (5-15, 5-7) — Claire Schneiter 1-2, Lin Brushia 2-3, Sophie Berning 0-3, Lily Newsom 0-3, Olivia Gray 1-1, Claire Moody 0-2, Emmy Kopsa 0-1, Camas Smith 0-1, Hailey Thomas 0-2.
BUTTE CEMTRAL (8-10, 6-6) — Hattie Mehring 1-1, Sofee Thatcher 3-4, Brooke Badovinac 1-4, Mia Keeley 1-2, Jaeden Berger 0-2, Brenna Foley 0-2, Renee Creekmore 1-3, Maggie Stimatz 0-2, Cloe Stillwagon 2-2.
Extra-base hit – HR – Keeley.
Runs batted in – Stevensville 1 (Burshia), Butte Central 8 (Keeley 3, Thatcher 2, Mehring 1, Badovinac 1, Creekmore 1).
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