Heartbreak for Hamilton: Broncs finish second at State A softball tournament
STATE A SOFTBALL

Heartbreak for Hamilton: Broncs finish second at State A softball tournament

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FRENCHTOWN — Hamilton finally got past rival Frenchtown, but it couldn’t solve the buzz saw that is Belgrade, finishing the season 24-3 with three losses to Belgrade.

The Broncs lost twice to the Panthers at the State A tournament on Saturday, including a 7-2 defeat in the championship game. The second-place finish is their best showing at state since winning the title in 2003.

“I couldn’t be more proud of these girls,” Hamilton head coach Dave Kearns said. “We gave it a shot. We wanted to play in the last game of the year, and we made it here. It’s pretty darn cool.

“I’m happy for our eight seniors. They started the program with us and we won second in our first summer ball tournament right here. They’re leaving this program better than when they came in.”

The Broncs hung tight with Belgrade in the championship game thanks to starting pitcher Hayley Hudgins keeping Belgrade’s batters more off balance than any other pitcher. The seven runs she allowed were the fewest the Panthers scored in the state tournament.

But similar to their 11-1 loss to Belgrade in the championship bracket semifinals, the Broncs struggled to find any offense against Erin Elgas. She limited Hamilton to 10 hits and two earned runs in 12 innings.

“She had a lot of movement,” Kearns said. “She spins it well, has a good rise ball. She’s an unbelievable talent.”

Hamilton’s only runs in the title game came on Hudgins’ RBI sacrifice fly and Abby Johnson’s RBI fielder’s choice.

Starting pitcher Sky Lopez had struggled in Saturday’s opener against Belgrade, giving up a pair of two-out grand slams to Heather Gier and Ty Atwood. The Broncs struck out 10 times against Elgas and got their only run on Tessa Della Silva’s RBI single.

They beat Frenchtown, 9-4, in the consolation final to earn the rematch with Belgrade. Eight of their nine runs were unearned as they took advantage of four Frenchtown errors. Jorden Taggart pitched a complete game.

“If I had to choose a word to sum up the season, I’d say family or hard work or dedication,” senior Caitlin Dillon said. “It was all worth it. I would have taken last place just to play with these girls.”

Frenchtown finishes third

Frenchtown’s season came to a close with its third loss to Hamilton in three tries this year.

The Broncs fell to the Southwest A champs, 9-4, in the consolation final, one game short of making the state final for the sixth year in a row. Errors did them in as they allowed eight unearned runs in their seventh game of the three-day tournament.

The Broncs still placed in the top three at state for the 14th year in a row with a 9-8 win over Polson in the loser-takes-fourth game. They came up with a walk-off win as Meg Delaney moved from second to third base on Brynn Leishman’s sacrifice fly and scored on an errant through from right field to third base.

Frenchtown had trailed 7-2 before busting out for six runs in the fifth inning. Polson tied the game 8-8 in the sixth and threatened to go ahead in the seventh, but Frenchtown turned a backdoor double play at first and second base.

“I think some it was we were mentally tired,” Frenchtown head coach Eli Field said of the errors against Hamilton. “It’s not lack of effort for sure. Mentally tired and probably emotionally drained because that Polson game was unreal in a lot of ways.”

Polson places fourth

Polson’s season ended with a loss to Frenchtown in the loser-takes-fourth game for the second year in a row.

The Pirates suffered a 9-8 heartbreaker this time around after losing 12-2 in in 2017. A three-error inning allowed Frenchtown to score six runs and take an 8-7 lead.

“It was an outstanding season,” Polson senior and Montana Grizzly commit Kaelyn Smith said. “These girls are amazing. This was the team to do it.

"That game, we had too many errors and they got in our heads. That’s what can’t happen to good teams.”

They had entered the season with only three returning seniors: Smith, Quinn Motichka and Laurel Bitterman. They added ace pitcher Vanessa Kent to solidify what was expected to be an area of concern, and Marina Mayorga’s development was a key in the strong campaign.

“I’d say the season was an overall success,” Polson head coach Larry Smith said. “We didn’t know much of what we had coming in. I attribute the success to the leadership of those three seniors.”

Frank Gogola covers Griz men's basketball and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at Frank.Gogola@406mtsports.com.

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