Softball opener: Belgrade hits, pitches past Butte High

By Bruce Sayler
Butte High will probably be more comfortable the next time the Bulldogs’ team is on a softball field. The Bulldogs’ unfamiliarity with dirt and the outdoors, 2024 version, showed Tuesday and a good Belgrade squad took advantage.
The Panthers beat Butte High 22-6 at Stodden Park as a sun-splashed day of 60-plus in temperature welcomed the Bulldogs to their season opener Tuesday. It was Belgrade’s third win in four non-conference games this season. Butte High’s next practice, maybe its first real one outside of this spring, will be focused on rectifying some mistakes of Tuesday.
“I told the girls I saw some positives today,” Ryan Stosich, head coach of the Bulldogs said. “We have to get on the field and get reps. We need to do the little things right.”
Six errors hurt Butte High’s chances and so did 19 Belgrade hits. Relief pitcher Olivia Mills of the Panthers hit the circle firing and the turned-up velocity led to 14 strikeouts in five innings.
Butte High pitchers Ashlinn Mullaney and Kamber Leary performed well, though the Panthers strung together nine hits in a 10-run seventh inning that put the game out of Butte High reach.
Mullaney missed last year due to a shoulder injury and recovering from the complicative reparation surgery after being a Class AA All-Stater as a freshman. She struck out five batters and walked one in four innings of work Tuesday. More sensational for the junior standout, though, was her first at-bat since May of 2022 resulted in a two-run first-inning homer that cleared the center-field fence.
“Both pitchers pitched pretty well,” Stosich said, “though the seventh inning got away. “
The coach said his team’s mistakes were indicative of a team unable to play or hone skills yet, and noted, too, that Belgrade “has a good program and has four games under their belts.”
Tuesday’s opener was to have been a doubleheader, but only one of the Stodden Park fields was deemed playable. So, instead of a twin bill, the junior varsity game followed the varsity clash. The Bulldogs were to have begun play last weekend with a home game against Great Falls High and road test at C.M. Russell in Great Falls. However, spring snow caused cancelation of both attempts.
Butte High collected 10 hits against Belgrade’s Ella Seaman and Mills, which was a positive for the Bulldog coaches, too. Junior Madisyn Swanson belted three hits, and junior catcher Gracie Ferriter and Mullaney each swatted two. Leary, senior left fielder Taylor Drakos and sophomore pinch hitter Mattie Stepan each pounded a single.
The defense, though, imploded.
“Errors are contagious,” Stosich said. “We haven’t been on a field and so some of those things are going to happen. They got anxious. When they got relaxed, it was better.”
The coach made special mention of Swanson’s and Ferriter’s hitting, and Ferriter’s work behind the plate, that included a spectacular catch of a pop foul at the backstop and picking a baserunner off of third base.
“And, Ashlinn (with her home run in her first plate appearance back from injury), she’s a gamer,” Stosich said.
Butte High had a 3-0 lead after an inning as Ferriter drew a one-out walk and Mullaney homered, then Leary walked, stole second and ran home when Swanson’s single to center was misplayed in the outfield.
Belgrade went ahead 5-3 in the second inning with Seaman getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, three runs scoring on a dropped flyball in the outfield and Tara Osler singling in a run. The Bulldogs committed two errors in the inning.
Butte High got a run back in its half of the second. Junior third baseman Hailey Skeel reached on an error with one out, moved to second as Dacelyn LaFond put down a sacrifice bunt and ran home on a base hit to center by Ferriter.
The Panthers exploded for six runs in the third and led 11-4. The Bulldogs again committed two errors. Belgrade stacked five hits, including a two-run single by Mills and run-scoring base hits by Julia Blossom and Osler. A double steal and a groundout also scored runs.
Neither team scored again until the top of the fifth inning when the Panthers tallied a run on back-to-back doubles by Brooklyn Ragland and Seaman.
Ten straight Belgrade batters reached base with two out in the top of the seventh. The string consisted of two singles, an error, six more singles and then capped by Seaman’s three-run homer. Osler and Krissy Carrillo each drilled two-run singles in the surge while Carley Stephens, Osler and Ragland knocked in a run apiece.
Mills entered the pitcher’s circle to start the bottom of the third inning and struck out the first six Bulldogs she faced, and nine of the first 10. A walk to Ferriter to start the bottom of fifth inning broke the streak and she held Butte High hitless after the second inning until back-to-back base hits by Swanson and Stepan in the seventh.
The Bulldogs scored twice off of her in the bottom of the seventh. Ferriter looped a single into left-center field to start the home half of the inning, took second on a botched rundown and raced home on a throwing error. Leary singled on the play, took second on the error, third on a passed ball and tallied on Swanson’s base hit to right.
Butte High is to open Western AA Conference play on Thursday at Stodden Park with a 3 p.m. game against Helena Capital.
Belgrade 056 010 (10) – 22 19 4
Butte High 310 000 ( 2) — 6 10 6
Ella Seaman, Olivia Mills (3) and Ava Lund. Ashlinn Mullaney, Kamber Leary (5) and Gracie Ferriter. W – Mills. L – Mullaney (0-1).
BELGRADE (3-1) – Brooklyn Ragland 2-5, Ella Seaman 3-3, Olivia Mills 2-4, Leah Larson 0-1, Tara Osler 2-5, Cody Stephens 1-5, Ava Lund 3-5, Rylee Devore-Feight 0-0, Ella Hoskins 2-4, Bailee White 0-1, Amy Szudera 0-0, Krissy Carrillo 2-5, Julia Blossom 2-3, Teagan Bowler 0-1.
BUTTE HIGH (0-1) – Dacelyn LaFond 0-3, Gracie Ferriter 2-2, Ashlinn Mullaney 2-4, Kamber Leary 1-3, Taylor Drakos 1-4, Madisyn Swanson 3-4, Avery Barsness 0-0, Brittyn Klima 0-0, Ashby Lee 0-3, Mattie Stepan 1-1, Gracie Jonart 0-2, Reese Johnson 0-1, Hailey Skeel 0-2, Allie Becker 0-1.
Extra-base hits – 2B — Hoskins, Ragland, Seaman. HR – Seaman, Mullaney (1).
Runs batted in – Belgrade 17 (Seaman 5, Carrillo 3, Mills 2, Osler 2, Stepens 2, Blossom 2, Ragland 1), Butte High 4 (Mullaney 2, Ferriter 1, Swanson 1).