KALISPELL — Despite a canceled season and moving up a classification, Belgrade is a softball champion once again.
The Panthers defeated Billings Senior 5-3 in the "if necessary" State AA championship game on Saturday. It was the fourth straight state championship for the program after wins in 2017, 2018 and 2019 at the Class A level. Belgrade moved to Class AA in 2019-2020 but didn't play softball that season due to the pandemic.
"It means the world. We started off, we didn't really have confidence," Belgrade junior Arin Eaton said. "We were just like, we're moving up, you know, are we able to compete with these girls? And then over time, we're just like, we can compete with them. We can do this. And that's really what drove us."
The Panthers took Senior in the undefeated semifinal 7-5 on Friday, but the Broncs fought their way back on Saturday. Senior beat Missoula Sentinel 5-1 in the third-place game Saturday morning, before clobbering Belgrade in the first championship game 13-3 in six innings. Dacee Zent hit two home runs to lead the way in that game, but then Senior's bats went quiet in the second title game.
Eaton pitched a gem in the second game, holding the Broncs to just one run over the first six innings. Meanwhile, Belgrade manufactured runs throughout. Elizabeth Ybarra had a two-run single in the second, and Kammie Gorrell added an RBI single in the third to make it 3-0 Belgrade. The Panthers eventually made it a 5-0 lead, before Senior finally scratched across a run in the fifth.
Eaton found herself in trouble in the seventh, as the Broncs scored twice and threatened for more, but finally Eaton forced a pop out to end the game, leading to a raucous celebration for the Panthers and their fans. Ybarra, a transfer from California who wasn't on Belgrade's previous title runs, recognized the achievement.
"I knew the the record we had on our shoulder and coming in we had a lot of doubt, but I think we proved everyone wrong that we could fight and we're here to stay," she said.
Belgrade finishes the season 21-7.