HAVRE -- The last two years have been a roller coaster for the Lewistown softball team. So you’ll have to forgive head coach Mike Mangold for getting emotional after the Eagles topped Havre 12-1 on Wednesday to claim a Northeastern A divisional title on Wednesday.
“We’ve had a lot of lumps. This is probably the most coaching we've ever had to do in a year and we've taken a lot of lumps,” Mangold said with tears welling in his eyes. “We've had a lot of young girls trying to step up and, man, they came out to compete (Wednesday) and it was awesome. We did what we knew that we could do this whole year.”
Last year’s Eagles squad was one of the most talented in school history and had state title aspirations, especially with conference rival and 2019 champion Belgrade moving up to Class AA.
But COVID-19 put an end to those dreams. This year’s team was much less experienced but showed steady improvement each week on the way to a 17-5 record and a regular-season divisional title.
“Everything we've asked of them, they've just gotten better and better. It's baby steps, baby steps the whole year,” Mangold said. “Everybody's struggled this year with youth. And we basically only had four girls that have more than one year's worth of experience on this team.”
Though they’ve dealt with youth, it was still a strong senior class leading the way.
Jessica Morgan led the Eagles in batting average (.506), home runs (13), RBI (37) and runs scored (31) all while notching 17 wins on the rubber with a 1.06 ERA, 222 strikeouts and allowing just 83 hits.
“I lost my junior year, so it was kind of crazy going from pitching some of the time to pitching most of the time. And so I've really tried to be a leader out on the field, especially for our younger girls,” Morgan said. “I wanted to create a connection and to always talk with them throughout the game to make sure that we make good plays and to keep them excited all the time.
Lewistown catcher Madison Affolder matched Morgan’s production at the plate with a .476 batting average, team-high 39 hits and 24 RBI. The pair is the heart and soul of the Eagles' offense and keeps each other grounded in the field - sometimes through any means necessary.
“She puts up with me so well, I've had the worst throws ever and she still puts up with me as long as she has her Snickers before the game,” laughed Affolder. “But seriously, I love Jess. She's amazing. She's so patient.”
The Eagles have sacrificed and accomplished a lot this season, but more importantly they never stopped having fun.
And they’re not done either. Lewistown earned the No. 1 seed at the State A softball tournament next week in Butte. They have a first-round bye and await the winner of Livingston and Columbia Falls in the second round.
“One thing we've done really good with this season is staying disciplined at our bats, making good throws, making good catches,” Affolder said. “Really just keeping those simple foundations present and just keeping a good attitude the whole time. But we're coming for those teams. We're ready for them.”