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State A softball: Columbia Falls fights all the way back for repeat championship

Columbia Falls softball
Posted at 11:44 PM, May 25, 2024

BILLINGS — Hours earlier Saturday, a repeat championship looked bleak for Columbia Falls at Stewart Park.

The Wildkats suffered a 7-2 defeat to Billings Central in the all-important undefeated semifinal of the Class A state softball tournament and were faced with the proposition of having to win three more times to capture their second straight crown.

But they dug in their cleats and made it happen, coming back through the consolation rounds to eventually beat Central twice for the championship as the late evening crept toward midnight. Columbia Falls beat the previously undefeated Rams 14-3 in the first championship, then 9-6 in Game 2.

In a rematch of last year's championship, Maddie Moultray did much of the heavy lifting, throwing exactly 200 pitches in the championship round and blasting a three-run home run to give the Wildkats the cushion they needed in Game 2.

"I can't even describe it," a tearful Moultray said. "It's so surreal. This team is my family. That's all I can say. They're my family."

Columbia Falls cruised in the first game to force the second championship contest. Bella Mann had a huge game, going 2 for 3 with a double, a home run and six RBIs. Moultray, meanwhile, threw four innings in the circle and limited the Rams to three hits while incurring two earned runs.

In the all-or-nothing second championship, Columbia Falls trailed 3-0 early but scored at least one run in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings to take command.

The Wildkats got two in the fifth as Haden Peters hit an RBI single to tie it 3-3, and as Annika Reid hit a sacrifice fly to for a 4-3 lead. But the big damage was done in the sixth.

In that frame, Peters delivered another RBI single, and then Moultray stepped up and blasted a three-run shot the opposite way to right field to put the Wildkats in front 8-3.

That, along with her workmanlike effort in the circle, made Moultray invaluable to the Wildkats' comeback.

"That was huge. I mean, that was huge," longtime C-Falls coach Dave Kehr said of Moultray's home run. "She's a powerful kid. It was just a big home run for us."

"We were down 3-0 and these girls just kept coming back and chipping away," Kehr said. "Honestly, they're so confident and they get along so great. They believe in each other. It's been a great season."

The Rams, seeking their first title since going back to back in 1994 and 1995, got closer with three runs of their own in the bottom half of the sixth. Gianna Haney came through with a two-run single after GG Hastings had drawn a bases-loaded walk. That cut C-Falls' lead to 8-6.

But the Rams could only muster one baserunner in the bottom of seventh and got no closer.

Moultray exuded the confidence Kehr spoke about on Friday, all but predicting her team would win the title. It didn't look good earlier Saturday, but her prophecy came true.

"When I woke up this morning I knew we had it in the bag," Moultray said. "We were sad that we lost the (undefeated semifinal) game but we knew we could come back and that's all it took."