Central opens with Havre at 1 p.m.
By Bill Foley
The Class A State softball tournament is coming at the right time for the Butte Central Maroons.
Winners of eight of their last 11 games, the surging Maroons open the tournament Thursday at 1 p.m. against Havre on Field No. 3 at Stodden Park. (Bracket)
“We’re getting better,” first-year BC head coach Bill “Chunky” Thatcher said of his Maroons, who qualified for State as the No. 3 seed from the Southwestern A. BC went 12-9 overall and 6-4 in conference play during the regular season.
That record includes a forfeit win over Dillon.
The Maroons secured the berth in the tournament with four straight wins down the stretch, including two key victories over Stevensville early last week.
Central is hoping to improve even more before the tournament opener. Junior Sofee Thatcher, who has missed the last month with an illness, will learn later today if she will be cleared in time to play at State.
Coach Thatcher said he will play his daughter in centerfield and likely bat her in the No. 2 hole if she is able to play. That would deepen a BC lineup that has been productive despite the team’s lack of numbers and depth.
“It will better our chances of competing,” the coach said.
Havre is the No. 2 seed from the Northeastern A, and Coach Thatcher said the Blue Ponies are a mystery to him. Most of the teams in the field are, Thatcher said, because teams did not get much of a chance to see other teams around the state during the pandemic season.
“I know nothing on Havre,” Thatcher said. “Their leadoff hitter is pretty good. That’s all I know.”
The winner will play Laurel, the No. 1 team from the Southeastern A, at 5 p.m. Libby and Billings Central will also play at 1 p.m., with the winner taking on Frenchtown.
The top half of the bracket sees Corvallis play Glendive and Livingston battle Columbia Falls at 11 a.m. Polson and Lewistown have byes and will play at 3.
The Maroons are not a mystery to Thatcher, who has guided his team to steady improvement after an 0-3 start.
Junior Brooke Badovinac, who plays third or shortstop, puts the “hitter” in leadoff hitter. She enters the state tournament batting .513. She has 18 extra-base hits, including four home runs, and 37 RBIs in 20 games.
If Sofee Thatcher returns, Brenna Foley will move down to stretch out the lineup. The junior second baseman is hitting .339 on the season. She is hitting at a .372 clip since moving from the outfield in the sixth game of the season.
Coach Thatcher said he might bat Foley third so she could bunt the first two runners over.
“It might have been a little higher, but I sac bunted her a few times,” Thatcher said of Foley’s average. “She’s a great bunter.”
Thatcher was hitting .409 through the first seven games of the season.
In all, BC has six hitters who carry a batting average better than .300. Sophomore catcher Mia Keeley is hitting .390 with a pair of home runs. Senior pitchers Maci Reopelle and Maddi Kump hit .367 and .364.
Other bats the Maroons are hoping to count on include junior Maggie Stimatz, sophomore Jaeden Berger and freshmen Kathryn Lalicker and Renee Creekmore. Lalicker, is hitting .273, and Berger, who took over first base after returning from injury, has really come on at the plate. She has five hits over the team’s last seven games.
Stimatz had a game-winning hit in Central’s win over Ronan in the LaVerne Combo Invitational.
Reopelle is BC’s top pitcher, but Thatcher said he knows he can count on Kump in big games, too. Both pitchers are also solid infielders. Kump plays third when she’s not in the circle, and Reopelle moves to short.
The outfield will include Stimatz in right and Lalicker in left if Sofee Thatcher can play. If not, Creekmore will play in left, where she has played much of the season, and Lalicker can play center.
Freshmen Jodi Reiter, Cloe Stillwagon and Angelina O’Rourke have also seen time for the Maroons.
Coach Thatcher said he has had a blast in his first season with the Maroons.
“It was a fun year, it really was,” he said. “I have a group of kids who are really fun.”
The coach also praised his coaching staff, which includes his brother John, Amanda Badovinac and Jamie Reopelle. He said Reopelle, who was a star pitcher from Butte High, is as good as or better than any pitching coach he has ever worked with.
“It’s been a journey, but it’s been a fun journey,” Thatcher said of his first season. “It’s been one of my funnest years.”
At the beginning of the season, Thatcher said his goals were to improve as the season went along and qualify for the first State A softball tournament in Butte in more than a decade. Both of those goals have been accomplished.
Now, the Maroons are looking to have a little more fun before it is all over.
“We’re just going to show up and do what we’ve done,” Thatcher said.