When school starts up at the end of the month, Natalie Schwab already has her answer for what she did over summer vacation: earning the No. 1 spot on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day.
The center fielder's diving catch in Saturday’s championship game of the Senior League Softball World Series was one of the plays in the Zootown All-Stars' eventual 10-0 win over Michigan to claim the title. At the time, it preserved teammate Macy Newbary's no-hitter.
Schwab said she learned about her appearance on the signature sports network after someone gave her a heads up on Twitter a few hours after the game.
“My mom had recorded the show and sent me a video of it and I was so excited,” the Big Sky High School senior said.
After landing back home in Missoula on Sunday, the team was celebrated the way all world champions should be -- by riding on top of a fire engine with a police escort as part of a parade through downtown.
Standing on the sidewalk on the Higgins Avenue bridge on Sunday, Kali Weisgram and her friends held signs and waited for the team to arrive.
“I was on the younger softball team in town and a lot of their sisters play on my team,” Weisgram said, holding up a sign for Taylor Holmes.
Doug Gagner and his daughter McKenna were also waiting on the bridge. Gagner’s daughter, third base player Adessa, waved from atop the Missoula Fire Department engine as the team rolled past.
“The played so impressively. It was really great that almost the entire team got to go back and try again for it this year,” Gagner said, referring to Zootown's loss in the 2014 title game.
After coming through downtown, the players stopped in the parking lot near Dornblaser Field to meet their families, friends and fans who had turned out for the homecoming.
Unlike many of the players on the team, who had returned to the tournament for the second year in a row following last year’s loss in the finals, Schwab was a new member of the Zootown All-Stars, having moved to town last August from Washington.
She said even though the team had a strong fan base of family and friends who turned up in person for the games, it was dwarfed by the amount of attention and support the team received over social media.
Quincy Preston, a senior at Big Sky, agreed.
“I definitely think we have one of the strongest and most supportive fan groups out there,” she said.
Most of all, Preston said she will miss spending time with her teammates at the tournament, especially Callie McKillop, Taylor Holmes and Kendall Rauk, her roommates during both years of the tournament.
“We have a lot of weird superstitions. Every night before going to bed, we listened to ‘Thugz Mansion.’ It’s a tradition,” Preston said.
Adessa Gagner said having been to the tournament before helped, as the team knew what to expect this year.
“I think we were more confident but we knew we couldn’t go in there being cocky,” she said.
Gagner doesn’t have much of a break ahead of her, with only three days of summer to enjoy before volleyball tryouts start for the Hellgate High School student.
Holmes said this year her whole family made the trip to Delaware for the tournament to see the Sentinel High School sophomore and her team win.
“I think after last year we just had some unfinished business to take care of,” she said.