Panthers battle past Bulldogs to stay unbeaten

Panthers battle past Bulldogs to stay unbeaten
Butte High pitcher McCaul McCarthy delivers a pitch to Belgrade's Maddie Tomasetti during the first inning Tuesday at Stodden Park. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bruce Sayler

Butte High came oh-so close to being the first softball team this spring to spill Belgrade.

However, behind the pitching of ace Erin Elgas, brought in late in the game to hold Butte High in check, Belgrade caught the Bulldogs and nipped them in nine innings, 14-13.

The non-conference clash was held at Stodden Park and was a makeup game for their April 4 snowed-out date.

They finished regulation seven-inning play tied 13-all after the Panthers rallied to tie the score in the top of the sixth. Elgas held the Bulldogs scoreless the last five innings of the game. Olivia Cook’s run-scoring single in the top of ninth drove in Kenna Thomas with what turned out to be the winning run.

Thomas had led off the ninth with a single then scurried all the way to third base on a sacrifice bunt Lanie Morgan patted down in front of the plate. Cook then poked her single into right field.

The Bulldogs got their only hit off Elgas when freshman Kodie Hoagland knifed a two-out single into left field after Elgas recorded her seventh and eighth strikeouts to begin the Butte High half of the frame. Fleet MacKenzie Tutty tried to bunt her way on after Hoagland’s base hit, but Cook fielded it charging in from third base and threw her out to end the game. Elgas is reportedly headed to Brown University after graduation this spring.

“We were right there,” Butte High head coach Ryan Stosich said about nearly upending two-time defending state Class A champion Belgrade, which is  to join Butte High and 13 other schools in the Class AA ranks next school year. “It was there for the taking. We have to clean up some physical and mental errors. We can’t keep giving them extra outs. McCaul (McCarthy) pitched well, good enough to win, but we didn’t give her the defense needed.”

The Bulldogs were charged with six errors, but found their offense with 17 hits. McCarthy countered nine walks with six strikeouts and did allow 15 Panther hits. However, she competed well and battled the batters without faltering in poise.

Butte High had built a 13-8 lead against Belgrade No. 2 pitcher Hazel Eaton. Most of the damage the Bulldogs inflicted occurred in the bottom of the first inning.

The Panthers had grabbed first lead with three-run first inning on a one-out solo home run by Thomas and a two-run double by Madi Kreiger after the team loaded the bases on two walks issued around a Cook single.

The Bulldogs launched their initial at-bats with a string of five hits — doubles by Tutty and Bradie Lester, singles by Brittney Tierney and Taylor Huff and then a double near the right-field line by Trisha Ericson. The string of hits scored four runs and gave Butte High the lead.

After McCarthy lined out hard to Thomas at shortstop, Jaden Cleveland singled to center field to drive in Ericson. A strikeout later, Hoagland singled and then Tutty walked to load the bases.

Lester cleared them with a double into right field. It was the Bulldogs’ fourth double and eighth hit of the inning. Eaton finally retired Butte High on a Tierney flyout to center field.

It finished a wild first inning complicated by strong wind gusts that played havoc with flyballs, especially popups, and put a little extra movement on the pitches. The conditions caused fielders to misjudge several batted balls, some of which carried several feet in the air from where they originally looked headed.

Still, Stosich liked the way Butte High attacked the Belgrade pitches right away.

“It was good to see us come out of the gates with our bats,” he said. “We have to give it some time. We’ll have to roll with the punches, but we will be fine.”

The weather elements softened, or the fielders became more accustomed to them as the play progressed.

Belgrade scored three times in the second, capitalizing on the Bulldogs committing three errors in the frame.

The Panthers caught up with a two-out, two-run single by Thomas. Butte High retook the lead in its half of the frame on base hits by Aubree Corcoran, Lester and Tierney.

The Bulldogs added to their advantage with four runs in the fourth inning for the 13-8 spread. Ericson led off with a single to center field and McCarthy followed with a single to left. Cleveland ripped a ground-rule double to center field to knock in two runs. Corcoran then lifted a flyball over the left-field fence for a two-run homer.

Belgrade pulled even with a five-run sixth inning. Kreiger walloped a run-scoring double and Sheridan Smith hit a run-scoring single before a debated safe call on a force play at second base let another run cross the plate. Kamie Gorrell then knocked in two runs, including the tying run, with a single to center field.

The call was that the fielder did not have her foot on the bag to execute the force play. Butte High coaches questioned it, claiming the player’s foot was still touching the base, but up against it.

“That’s a call you get on the road,” Stosich said, “not at home. That’s the way she goes, sometimes.”

The teams then held each other scoreless until Belgrade won in the ninth.

“We hit the ball well,” Stosich said. “And, the more we saw of Erin, we started to hit her (put the ball in play). She’s hit-able, but she’s a good pitcher.”

The coach said work will be on fundamentals this week as the Bulldogs prepare to return to Eastern AA Conference play with games against Billings West and Billings Senior this weekend.

Stosich agreed one or two critical errors, including two on one particular play, likely had much to do with the result. However, Butte High, breaking in six new starters this year, seemed to shake off the mistakes better than earlier in the year.

The loss to 6-0 Belgrade put the Bulldogs’ record at 1-7.

“I thought McCaul pitched a good game,” Stosich said. “(The Panthers) are a tough team. They’ve beaten five double-A teams, now.”

Lester collected four runs batted in with her three hits, including a pair of doubles, and Cleveland had three RBIs. Every Bulldog in the lineup hit safely, seven of them multiple times.

Belgrade         332      005      001 — 14   15   2
Butte High     801      400      000 — 13   17   6

Hazel Eaton, Erin Elgas (5) and Haylee Curry. McCaul McCarthy and Brittney Tierney. W — Elgas. L — McCarthy (1-5)
BELGRADE (6-0) — Kamie Gorrell 2-5, Kenna Thomas 3-5, Lanie Morgan 1-4, Olivia Cook 2-5, Maddie Tomasetti 2-4, Madi Kreiger 2-5, Ellie Milesnick 0-4 Kayleigh Bauerle 0-0, Sheridan Smith 1-6, Haylee Curry 2-4.
BUTTE HIGH (1-7) —  MacKenzie Tutty 2-5, Bradie Lester 3-5, Brittney Tierney 2-5, Taylor Huff 1-5, Trisha Ericson 2-5, McCaul McCarthy 1-5, Cameron LaFond 0-0, Jaden Cleveland 2-4, Dylan Duffy 0-1, Aubree Corcoran 2-5, Kodie Hoagland 2-5.
Extra-base hits — 2B — Kreiger 2, Tutty, Lester 2, Ericson, Cleveland. HR — Thomas, Corcoran (1).
Runs batted in — Belgrade 11 (Thomas 3, Kreiger 3, Gorrell 1, Cook 2, Smith 1), Butte High 13 (Lester 4, Cleveland 3, Ericson 2, Corcoran 2, Tierney 1, Huff 1.


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