By Bill Foley
Kelci Thatcher is a bit of an optimist when it comes to the aftermath of the heavy, late-winter snow that is throwing a wrench into all of Montana’s spring sports.
While the Butte Central softball coach would rather be outside as she enters her seventh season as head coach of the Maroons, she is making the most of her time inside.
“It’s a great start to the season because you spend time after time focusing on fundamentals,” Thatcher said of her BC practices at the Maroon Activities Center. “We spend every practice doing fundamentals.
“It gives us a strong foundation to build on,” the coach said. “When we’re outside, we won’t have to spend so much time on working on our footwork. I kind of feel it puts us a head a little bit. We can use time differently outside when we do get outside.”
BC was able to practice outside on Montana Tech’s Bob Green Field twice. That will turn out to be the only outdoor work before the Maroons open the season Saturday at 5 p.m. against Columbia Falls in Frenchtown. The junior varsity game starts at 3 p.m.
Saturday will be BC’s second attempt to start the season. The Maroons saw games against Columbia Falls and Polson scheduled for March 23 in Polson washed out.
The Maroons will pack a roster of 17 players as they look for another trip to state and the school’s first state title since 2000.
Thatcher said she likes what she sees in her team.
“I’m really ecstatic about these girls,” the coach said.
Seniors Kenzie Norton, a veteran in right field, and Annie Gallus, an experienced reserve, are BC’s two seniors back on the team. Senior Kaylyn O’Neill is out for the team for the first time this year.
The Maroons also have a strong, experienced junior class to lead the way. They are Zoe Doherty, Cassidy Strizic, Emma Keeley, Makala Doherty and Gracie Wall. .
“They’re so much more relaxed and confident,” Thatcher said of the juniors, most of whom contributed since their freshman year. “They really worked hard in the offseason.”
Sophomores Maci Reopelle Ashlyn Leyba, Lexis Earles, Katelyn McKinnon and Maddie Kump, and freshmen Sofee Thatcher, Brenna Foley, Trinity Winnings and Maggie Stimatz round out the BC roster. Reopelle transferred to BC from Butte High
Gone from last year are Kloie Thatcher, a four-time All-State performer at short stop and pitcher, and Kassidy Criscuolo, an all-conference center fielder.
The Maroons will move Strizic from behind the plate to center field, where the Maroons can better utilize her athletic ability and quick first step.
Keeley will move from short stop to catcher, where she will work with Makayla Doherty and Reopelle.
Coach Thatcher said she would like to see those two pitchers split time equally, perhaps using both of them in most games.
“Makala and Maci are very different pitchers,” Thatcher said. “I would really like to use them 50/50 to keep hitters off balance as much as we can.”
The lineup will change depending the pitcher. That is OK for the Maroons, who are full of players who can play multiple positions. That’s because they have no choice.
“At Butte Central you kind of have to do it all,” Thatcher said. “At the start of practice I said, ‘You’re going to have to do a lot of things that A.) you might not want to do or B.) you might not like. But it’s what the team needs. I’ve been really, really impressed with how well they’ve accepted those rules.”
Zoe Doherty will be a fixture at second base. The rest of the infield will change from day to day or inning to inning.
When Makala Doherty pitches, Stimatz will play first, Reopelle will man short and Kump, an all-conference player a year ago, will play third. From left to right, the outfield will be Thatcher, Strizic and Norton.
When Reopelle pitches, Makala Doherty will play first, Kump will move to short, and Thatcher will play third. Foley will come in to play left field.
The rest of the roster expects to see action for the Maroons, varsity and junior varsity.
“I have a lot of kids who have some experience at different positions and I have the ability to move them around,” coach Thatcher said.
Central’s next action is April 6 with games in Hamilton and Corvallis. BC’s first home game is scheduled for April. While the county is working to clear BC’s field at Stodden Park, that game is a question mark at best.
The State tournament is in Polson, May 23-25. To get there, the Maroons must finish in the top three of the Southwestern A.
Frenchtown and Hamilton figure to be the teams to beat once again be the teams to beat. Dillon, Stevensville and Corvallis will be formidable opponents, too, Thatcher said.
“Every year is a battle,” the coach said. “I expect this year will be a battle all the way through.”
Thatcher welcomes that battle alongside a group of players she is clearly very fond of.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “They’re already surprising me, and we haven’t really been outside. I think it’s going to be a special group.”
Thatcher will once again be assisted by her sister Sarah Stepan, cousin Hattie Thatcher, Alicia Kachmarik and Luke Stajcar.