The celebration was on seemingly before the last out.
A strikeout by Macey Newbary (of course) ended the Senior Softball Little League Western regional tournament with the Zootown All-Stars on top, after beating Hawaii 9-0 in the championship game Tuesday night.
“It feels, just, awesome,” Newbary said.
It’s the second time in two years Zootown has won the title and advanced to the World Series in Delaware – they lost in the championship game there last summer. And while the celebration was on, complete with barbecues and hugs and pictures, there was definitely an air of unfinished business at Playfair Park following the win.
"It feels awesome that we get a chance to go back and hopefully get it this time," Newbary said after the game.
Zootown reached the championship after blazing through pool play over the weekend and arriving to the knockout rounds undefeated. They entered the semifinal against Oregon on Tuesday afternoon having scored 60 runs, while allowing just nine.
A 9-0 win over Oregon, whom Zootown barely beat 3-2 in the first game of the tournament, made the differential 69-9.
Zootown jumped to an early 3-0 lead on Oregon before a two-RBI double by Callie McKillop made it 5-0. An RBI single by Hannah Hirning in the sixth, followed by a three-run shot to left by catcher Taylor Holmes put Zootown easily in the championship.
It was Holmes’ second game in a row with a homer.
The championship game started out much the same, with a solo home run by Newbary in Zootown’s first at-bat of the day. That sparked a big inning that manager Dennis Staves was instrumental in knocking Hawaii off-balance early.
“I was so glad to step up and get that right away,” Newbary said of the shot. “I was so nervous.”
Adessa Gagner and McKillop followed her with back-to-back singles and, thanks, to some aggressive base running by Gagner, an RBI for McKillop.
Zootown ran hard on the bases all week, taking advantage of lazy throws and defensive inattention to put runners in scoring position. For a team that admits its weakest area is hitting, Staves said it was vital to give his girls a chance to put runs on the board.
“It puts a lot of pressure on their defense,” he said. “They have to make quick plays, and a lot of times it will bust games right open.”
That’s exactly what it did, after an RBI double by Holmes and an RBI by Kendall Rauk made it 4-0.
Zootown wouldn’t score again until the fifth, when Rauk, Holmes, and Sierrah Hardy drove in three more runs. Holmes finished the night 2 for 3 with two RBIs, and a two-run blast in the bottom of the sixth by Joslynn Haran made it 9-0 in favor of Zootown.
Not that they needed it.
Newbary was masterful in the circle for Zootown, striking out five and only allowing two hits in a complete game. In fact, Hawaii's Kiarra Lincoln was the only player to even reach base on Newbary - she led the game off with a single and smacked a double in the sixth.
“She was just fantastic,” Staves said. “She started off a little shaky (with the leadoff single), but after she got that first out, she was just throwing smoke.”
The 9-0 result brought Zootown’s run differential to a gaudy 78-9, which Staves said was a testament to his team's stellar defense. The All-Stars only made four errors in nine games, allowing an average of just one run per game.
By contrast, Zootown averaged 8.6 runs per game.
“It’s defense and pitching, that’s how you win these games,” he said. “That, and some timely hitting, and you’re good to go.”
The newly-crowned Western region champions will now set their sights on Sussex County, Delaware, the sight of the World Series. Newbary said she's excited to go back, because it's a fun trip with her teammates, but more importantly, to make right last year's championship game loss.
"It's such a fun trip," she said. "But we have a job to do, and that's to win and bring that title here."
Between then and now, the team will spend less time practicing and more time fundraising.
Garden City Softball Little League president Kevin Miltko said while Little League pays for a large part of the trip, they don’t pay for it all, and so the team has to raise funds to pay its way to Delaware. They’ll be out asking for donations on Wednesday at Out To Lunch, and accepting donations at P.O. Box 1204, Missoula, MT 59806-1204.
“This is just the second team ever from Missoula to reach the World Series at any level, the first being last year’s squad,” Miltko said. “We’re so proud of the girls and the way they represent the best of Missoula.”