FRENCHTOWN – The top seeds proved why they earned the top seeds on the first day of the State A softball tournament.
Northwestern A champion Polson, Central A champion Belgrade, Southwestern A champion Hamilton and Eastern A champion Miles City each received a bye in Thursday’s first round, and they all picked up afternoon victories in the second round to advance in the winner’s bracket.
Polson survived the most drama. The Pirates fell behind the hosting Frenchtown Broncs 7-0 after star senior Meg Delaney crushed a two-run home run in the third inning. But then the Pirates came back. Quinn Motichka slammed a three-run homer in the fifth to bring Polson all the way into a tie game, 7-7. Then later in that inning, Page Noyes drove in a run to give the Pirates the lead. Polson wound up scoring 10 unanswered runs to shock Frenchtown 10-7.
The defending champs needed the least drama. Belgrade started out slow against Sidney. The Panthers didn’t get on the board until a two-run double by Olivia Cook in the third inning, but then they didn’t stop scoring. Belgrade cruised to a 19-0 victory over the Eagles.
Hamilton found itself in a tight battle with Libby through five innings, but the Broncs blew it open in the sixth. Hayley Hudgins drove in a pair doubling the lead from 4-2 to 6-2. Then later in the inning, Caitlin Dillon slammed a three-run homer to push the lead to 10-2. Libby scored a couple runs late, but the Broncs moved on 10-4.
Butte Central and Miles City went back and forth in the final second-round matchup. Miles City took the early lead. Butte Central’s Kloie Thatcher got caught in a rundown after a Kassidy Criscuolo hit in the second, but the Maroons star stayed alive through several throws and scored after one Cowgirl throw hit Thatcher in the head. But Miles City extended the lead with RBIs from Amber Taylor in the third and Arena Porter and McKaylla Hudson in the sixth to go up 8-4. Thatcher would cut the lead in half with a late two-run homer, but Miles City hung on to advance, 8-6.
Belgrade and Polson will meet in the winner’s bracket at 1 p.m. Friday afternoon. At the same time, Hamilton will battle Miles City for a spot in the semifinal.
In the first round earlier in the day, hosting Frenchtown finished off the first victory. The Broncs shut out Lewistown 5-0 thanks to a great pitching performance by Bryn Leishman.
Sidney made some history before they ran into the powerful Belgrade Panthers. The Eagles held off Columbia Falls 6-5 to pick up the first state tournament win in program history. Sidney took a 6-1 lead before the Wildkats clawed back to within one in the seventh inning. But Columbia Falls never put the tying run on base.
Libby’s Khalyn Hageness dominated the Hardin Bulldogs in another first-round showdown. The Loggers’ ace shut out the Bulldogs in a 9-0 win. Libby took advantage of a few costly errors to score three runs in three different innings.
Butte Central jumped to a 3-0 lead early against Havre in their first-round matchup. The Blue Ponies came back to tie the game on a two-run double by Kinzee Peterson in the third and an RBI double by Samantha Oliver in the fifth. But in the top of the sixth, the Maroons took the lead back when Emma Keeley hit a soft line drive single into right. The Blue Ponies tried to throw out Kassidy Criscuolo advancing to third, but the ball bounced into the dugout, allowing Criscuolo to score. Keeley advanced to third on the error, and Butte Central added another run in the inning on a sac fly from Madison Kump.
The State A tournament will continue with loser-out games beginning at 9 a.m. Friday.
Frenchtown vs Hardin – 9 a.m. (loser-out)
Sidney vs Havre – 9 a.m. (loser-out)
Libby vs Lewistown – 11 a.m. (loser-out)
Butte Central vs Columbia Falls – 11 a.m. (loser-out)
Polson vs Belgrade – 1 p.m. (quarterfinal)
Hamilton vs Miles City – 1 p.m. (quarterfinal)
Libby/Lewistown winner vs Butte Central/Columbia Falls winner – 3 p.m. (loser-out)
Frenchtown/Hardin winner vs Sidney/Havre winner – 3 p.m. (loser-out)
Polson/Belgrade loser vs 3:00 winner – 5 p.m. (loser-out)
Hamilton/Miles City loser vs 3:00 winner – 5 p.m. (loser-out)