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'Everything happens for a reason': The perfect storm behind Helena Capital's walk-off state title

Anna Cockhill and Kathryn Emmert
Posted at 1:47 PM, May 27, 2024

HELENA — It’s a moment the Helena Capital softball team will remember for a long time.

Bruins senior shortstop Anna Cockhill took the plate to lead the lineup in the bottom of the eighth inning with the championship game tied at 2-all with Kalispell Glacier.

She walked off to win the Bruins the state title game, 3-2.

"I didn’t even see the error happen," Cockhill recalled. "I just thought it was going to be a single, which would have been good to lead off the inning."

That's when she looked up while rounding the bases, and her coach was waving her to just keep running.

"I just saw Mike (Miller) keep waving me, and I kept going as fast as I could," she said.

Anna Cockhill walk-off
Senior shortstop Anna Cockhill runs from third base to home plate to win Helena Capital the 2024 State AA championship on May 26, 2024.

What originally looked like an inside-the-park home run was eventually ruled as a single and a three-base error.

It didn't matter the technicality, though. The Bruins clinched the 2024 state championship with that play.

"I have so much confidence in Anna, and I was so happy she was the one to come up," Helena Capital senior pitcher Kathryn Emmert said. "And I knew she was about to do something really special. And that took me back to 12U, when she would get in-the-park home runs almost every at-bat, so that was awesome."

The tournament was originally supposed to be played in Belgrade but had to be moved to Helena due to a snowstorm on Thursday.

Once it moved to the Bruins' home field, they felt destined for something special.

"Everything happens for a reason," Emmert said. "I think, you know, moving it back here was our good luck charm. These fields, they’ve done so much for us and Mike takes such good care of these fields. It was so special to win on his fields."

Emmert is of course referring to their head coach, Mike Miller. Sunday was Miller’s 'final day on the job' after 30 years leading the team.

His tenure includes state titles in 2004, 2009 — and now — 2024.

There might not be a better way to go out as a coach than the way he and his team did.

"You just can’t describe it obviously," Miller said while holding back tears. "First, the winning state championships are great. Final season, great. But, you know, honestly, it’s special for this group of girls.

"I’ve had one before, so it’s exciting. These girls have earned it. I just couldn’t be happier for them. You just look at them and how happy they are, I mean, it just couldn’t be better."

Kathryn Emmert and Mike Miller
Helena Capital softball head coach Mike Miller hugs senior pitcher Kathryn Emmert after winning the 2024 State AA champion on May 26, 2024.

The State AA softball bracket is double elimination, with a first-round game for every team seeded third or worse. Capital, which had to play in that first round as the Western AA's third seed, went undefeated throughout the tournament.

Emmert pitched all five games for the Bruins and nearly every inning of their run, totaling 49 strikeouts.

In the top of the eighth of the championship game, Glacier had runners on first and second with only one out.

Emmert proceeded to shut out the Wolfpack by catching a sac bunt and then threw her final strikeout of the tournament to keep the game tied.

"I knew it wasn’t worth letting them score, so I was going for strikeouts," Emmert reflected back on her final inning on the mound. "Strikeout or, you know, it was going to be a super close game. So, strikeouts or if the ball could come to me that would be the best scenario. Just keeping it close, making sure they can’t get home."

Kathryn Emmert
Helena Capital senior pitcher Kathryn Emmert walks back to dugout after throwing the final strikeout of her high school career in the State AA championship game on May 26, 2024.

That final defensive push gave their offense some juice to close the game and take home the title.

"We just didn’t want to lose and didn’t want to quit," Cockhill explained of the mindset of her team in the eighth inning. "Kathryn threw a great game, and we wanted to back her up."

"We just preached that we were going to do our best and leave it on the field," Miller said. "That’s all I expect of you, is your best effort. And whatever happens, happens."

A legacy left on his field, one they named after Miller to honor him this season, that will never be forgotten.