KALISPELL – A rare underdog all season, Florence wasn’t expected to make much noise in the loaded Western B-C softball division. But get the Falcons to the state tournament and, well ...
“The hardest thing, ya know, you’ve just got to get here and anything can happen,” Florence coach Rob Ralls said.
The maxim proved true Thursday for both Florence and Ronan, the West’s champion and No. 1 seed. The teams experienced opposite ends of the prophecy, though.
Florence beat Glasgow 6-3, the Falcons’ fourth win against the Scotties in the last four State B-C softball tournaments, but Ronan couldn’t fend off upset-minded Huntley Project, which prevailed 8-6 in nine innings, in a pair of first-round games oft interrupted by stormy weather in Kalispell. The tournament started at Flathead High’s Conrad Softball Complex before ending at Glacier’s Kidsports Complex two weather delays later in the evening.
Rain, hail and soggy fields wiped out the second set of games Thursday, which will instead be played early Friday morning. Plains-Hot Springs’ opener with Conrad-Choteau will begin at 8 a.m. with second-rounders set to go at 10 a.m. back at Kidsports.
Florence 6, Glasgow 3
Locked in a 3-all tie, Florence struck for three more in the top of the seventh inning to advance out of the first round.
Natalie Drozdz singled but was out at second on a fielder’s choice, leaving the Falcons down to their last out. Natalie Dulac followed with a double to right, and runner Shannon Byrne held at third with No. 4 batter Chloe Arthur coming up.
Arthur wouldn’t be denied.
“I went up there and knew I was hitting,” the junior catcher recalled later. “I knew I was bringing those runs in. It’s what you’ve got to do for my team, my coaches.
“I saw a big meatball and I hit it as hard as I could.”
Arthur’s rapped single cleared the infield and sent both runners in to give Florence a 5-3 lead. Shay Waldbillig added an insurance run with an RBI single a batter later.
“I think we had the jitters coming into the state tournament,” explained Waldbillig, the team’s sophomore pitcher. “We still had them at the beginning, but once one person gets a good hit, we all go off of them and get it.”
Glasgow, the East’s third seed, loaded the bases with one out against Byrne, Florence’s relief pitcher, but a grounder to third base was hit sharp enough to get the runner out at home. Byrne then induced another grounder to the left side and Florence closed it out there.
Arthur finished the game 4 for 4 and scored three runs. She also had a double in the team’s two-run sixth inning that knotted the score 3-3.
“(Pitcher Tyra Johnson) did a good job there for a while, just got a little high and they started hitting her pretty good,” coach Gil Johnson said of his junior hurler.
Florence (18-11), the West’s No. 3 seed after finishing fourth in Western B-C’s South Division in the regular season, next plays Huntley Project in the second round Friday.
Huntley Project 8, Ronan 6 (9 innings)
Rhythm was difficult to find on all fields Thursday, but the start-and-stop pace of play seemed to put the brakes on Ronan especially.
An hour lightning-delay kept the tournament from starting on time, and then in the bottom of the second with the Maidens up 3-2, players were called off the field during another stormy spat. Play didn’t resume until two hours later at a second location.
“My girls were ready to go but by the third time we had to move ...,” Ronan coach Kellie (Jones) Manyhides began, trailing off. “We spent more time warming up today than we did playing the game.”
Huntley chipped away at a 5-2 deficit and eventually tied the game at 5-5 in the top of the sixth inning. The Red Devils then appeared to take the lead on an Emily Reimche sacrifice fly in the seventh, but the scoring runner left base early and was called out when Ronan tossed the ball back to third.
It didn’t deter Huntley’s rallying spirit as the game headed to extra innings. Keera Stookey batted in a run to make it 6-5 and put Ronan on the brink for the first of two times in extras.
“We knew Ronan was a great team and we were going to have to play our best ball to be able to beat ‘em,” Huntley coach Tim Bastian said, “but we knew if we can play complete games, we can play with most teams.”
With two outs in the bottom half, Ronan’s Shailee Courville walked and then Jordyn Clairmont doubled to right field to bring her home. The game was tied once more.
No. 4 seed Huntley responded with two runs this time in the top of the eighth and Ronan couldn’t field another challenge. The Maidens stranded a runner at third as the game and the Maidens’ very long day came to an end.
Though not gone completely, Ronan’s title hopes are now on life support. The Maidens (19-7) will face Glasgow in a loser-out game at noon Friday.
“We’ve got to hit the ball,” said a frustrated Manyhides after her squad managed just seven hits. “That’s not us right there. We’ve got to hit more; we’re a big hitting team. If we want to stay in tomorrow we’ve just got to hit.”