FRENCHTOWN — On Thursday, Montana's three state softball tournaments get underway, including the Class A tournament which will be held in Hamilton this year. And after a runner-up finish last season, the Frenchtown Broncs once again enter as a No. 1 seed, as they're looking for their first state softball title since 2016.
That runner-up finish to Polson last year capped a growing season for the Broncs, who were hitting their stride by the state tournament, and came into this season fueled by that result.
"Just always be there for each other, always have our backs even if it's not on the softball field," Frenchtown senior pitcher Sadie Smith said. "Like we're extremely close as a team in school, out of school, all of that kind of stuff and I think that was a big thing from last year because all of us went through taking second at state last year and we all went through just growing together and now it's like OK now we're here for each other."
The Broncs finished the season 19-1-2, the two draws coming against Billings Central and Laurel at a time-capped tournament in Butte. Frenchtown enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed from the Southwest A, and they will take on the winner of Glendive and Laurel on Thursday at 5 p.m. to open state. Havre, Billings Central and Columbia Falls round out the remaining top seeds.
Last Friday, Frenchtown celebrated senior night. Though their opponent forfeited that contest, the Broncs still found a way to celebrate the nine seniors on the team with an intra-squad scrimmage as they got ready for their postseason run.
Head coach Eli Field said that group of seniors has been instrumental in building the program back to a championship contender.
"A lot of them, I mean, you look at Sadie Smith who has been pitching with me since she was probably 10 years old through our summer program," Field said. "I've known so many of them for so long. A lot of them played with my daughter who is two years out of the program so I know them really well but what did they do? They rebuilt this thing after COVID and that's a big deal."
Smith, Cassidy Bagnell, Chloe Long, Toni Beatty, Juna Ashby, Abby Faulhaber, Carlie Habeck, Ava McPhillips and Delaney Jarrett are Frenchtown's seniors this year.
For the seniors, growing up together, and overcoming obstacles like the canceled 2020 season and last year's second-place finish have them primed for their final run.
"It means a lot to me personally because I've grown up in Frenchtown and I've been playing with these girls for a really long time," Long, a right fielder, said. "It's pretty emotional that I'm not going to play on this field again after tonight but at the same time I'm happy because I think we've left our legacy especially with the younger girls. They've grown really close to us and we've grown really good relationships with them so that means a lot to me."
"It's been great because we've played with each other since we were young, like 10U, 12U and it's been a super accepting group and it's like a bunch of sisters," Faulhaber, a second baseman added. "We all know each other and how each are and it's been good in the game because we all trust each other too."