Central opens Saturday in Polson
By Bill Foley
With new head coach Bill “Chunky” Thatcher leading the way, Butte Central’s softball team can expect a season full of laughs.
Thatcher, who is taking over the program after an eight-year run by his niece Kelci, plans to have pizzas in the dugout for the home and road teams of each home game — and in road games when he can find a pizza parlor.
It is all part of Thatcher’s plan to make playing for the Butte Central softball team so much fun that more girls will want to be part of it in the coming years. Thatcher is also expecting the Maroons to add on some wins to all that laughter and pepperoni.
“I really feel we’re going to be a threat by the end of the year,” the coach said.
The Maroons open the 2021 campaign Saturday when they head to Polson to take on Polson and Columbia Falls in non-conference games. The Maroons play the Pirates at 1 p.m. before playing the Wildkats at 5. (Roster; schedule)
By the time the Maroons take the field, 684 days will have passed since Central last played a softball game. That was May 14, 2019, and the Maroons beat Dillon 11-9 in a Southwestern A game in Dillon.
Central’s regular-season finale against Stevensville was rained out, and the Maroons missed the state tournament for the first time in school history.
Last year, of course, the whole season was washed out by COVID-19.
The BC roster includes 13 players. Of those, five were part of the 2019 team. They are seniors Maci Reopelle and Maddi Kump and juniors Sofee Thatcher, Brenna Foley and Maggie Stimatz.
Reopelle, who played her freshman season with the Butte High Bulldogs, is back to serve as the No. 1 pitcher for the Maroons. She will pitch Saturday against Polson and then take the ball for conference games.
“She’s throwing very well, which is complements to her mother,” Coach Thatcher said. “Her mother is one heck of a pitching coach.”
Reopelle’s mother is Jamie (Hardesty) Reopelle. She is one of two former Butte High standouts on the coaching staff. The other is Amanda (Evans) Badovinac. John Thatcher and BC teacher Ethan Hoffman round out the coaching staff.
Kump, who has been a fixture at third base since her freshman season, will also pitch for the Maroons. She is returning to the circle for the first time since her Little League days. Kump will start against Columbia Falls.
Thatcher, the head coach’s daughter, was a second-team all-conference player two years ago. She will also see time pitching for the Maroons. Sophomore Mia Keeley will start at catcher.
“She’s looking great,” Chunky Thatcher said of Keeley. “She’s muscled up, and she’s got a good arm.”
Sofee Thatcher will also back up at catcher. Sophomore Brooke Badovinac has a history as a catcher, but she will play second base this season because of a knee injury.
The rest of the positions will change, depending on who is pitching.
“We have got a lot of interchangeable parts,” Chunky Thatcher said. “I’ve got three pitchers. I’ve got three catches. I’ve got two third basemen, two shortstops, three second baseman, two first basemen. The infield is intact, and a couple of the infielders will interchange in the outfield.”
When Reopelle pitches, Thatcher will play shortstop, Kump will hold down the hot corner, Stimatz ore sophomore Jaeden Berger will play first base.
When Kump pitches, Reopelle will play short, and Thatcher will move to third. Badovinac is the primary second baseman.
Foley will play left field, freshman Kathryn Lalicker will start in center, and Stimatz or Berger will play right field.
Chunky Thatcher will also find playing time for freshmen Jodi Reiter, Renee Creekmore, Chloe Stillwagon and Angelina O’Rourke. The coach said some of the freshman have never played before.
“They are working harder probably than any kid I ever coached,” the coach said.
While Thatcher cited his infield as a strength of the team, he also expects big things from his Maroons with the bats.
“One through nine, they really get the bat on the ball. That’s what I like,” the coach said. “In the batting cage, they’re all stroking it right now.”
After Saturday, the Maroons will not be in action again until April 6. That is when the Maroons take on Livingston in their home opener at Stodden Park. That is if the field is ready by then.
The Maroons will go into Saturday’s action without practicing on an actual softball field. Their practices have been mostly inside the Maroon Activities Center. BC got the chance to practice this week on Montana Tech’s Bob Green Field.
Central’s first Southwestern A game is April 10 in Stevensville. The Maroons will host two tournaments this season. The first is a scaled-down LaVerne Combo Invitational May 14-15 at Stodden.
That tournament included 32 teams in 2019. This year will only include 12 teams.
Stodden Park will host the Class A State tournament May 27-29. This time, the Maroons plan on being there. With pizza.
“I really believe we are going to go out and compete this year,” Chunky Thatcher said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun.”