BELGRADE — It was beautiful Wednesday afternoon at Belgrade High School for the Eastern AA divisional softball championship. The fourth-seeded Belgrade Panthers took on No. 3-seeded Billings West after both teams went through the gauntlet on Tuesday for a chance at the the title.
On Wednesday, Billings West overcame a massive Belgrade comeback to win a 13-12 shootout.
West started out hot in the first. Junior Avery Martin hit a single to center, but the Belgrade outfielder couldn't come up with it and a runner on base was able to score. The Golden Bears went up 3-0 after one inning.
There was a lot offense in this one. In the second Belgrade tied the game up at 3-3 on a two-run homer by Shaylis Osler that clanked off the scoreboard in dead center.
In the bottom of the second, the Golden Bears regained the lead on an RBI single by Marleigh Nieto that plated Morgan Stoppel.
The Panthers took back the lead in the bottom of the third as Osler hit into a fielder's choice that scored the player from third. That made it 5-4 Belgrade.
West didn’t take kindly to that and answered back in a big way in the fourth inning. All tied up at 5-5, and Nieto hit one off the wall for a single, scoring the runner from second to make it 6-5 Golden Bears. Then Avery Martin struck again with a strong hit to the outfield for a two-RBI single. West scored eight runs in the third to take a 12-5 lead.
Belgrade wouldn’t go down without a fight, though. In the fourth, the bases were juiced for Taylor Thomas, and she gave the ball a ride high and deep to left field for a grand slam and her second home run of the day. Belgrade was now only down 12-10.
In the sixth, Osler came up to bat with one on and she did it again with a two-run bomb that tied the game at 12.
In the bottom of the sixth with the bases juiced for the Golden Bears, Lauren Blaschak hit the ball in the hole between third and short. Panthers shortstop Kenna Thomas nabbed it and tried to get the runner at third, but the runner slid in safe and a run scored to give the Golden Bears a 13-12 lead.
Belgrade had a shot to at least tie in the seventh with a Panther on second base, but Taylor Thomas popped out to the catcher, and the Billings West Golden Bears are Eastern AA champs.
“Either team could've won it," said Golden Bears head coach Preston Sanders. "Both teams are good. Both teams are fundamentally sound. It was just a fun game. I enjoyed coaching it.”
Both teams had already punched their tickets to state. For Belgrade head coach Joey Roberts, he loved seeing his team battle back,
“Going down 12-5 in the second or third and battling back and some timely hitting and just girls just clutching up and getting things done and our dugout staying hyped the whole time -- that was really fun to be a part of," he said. "Unfortunate outcome, but I think it gave our girls a lot of confidence heading out to state.”
Mckinsey Matthews, Avery Martin and Lauren Blaschak all had two hits and two RBI for the Golden Bears.
Shaylis Osler and Taylor Thomas each had two home runs and five RBI for Belgrade.
The State AA tournament is May 27-29 at Kalispell.