POLSON — The four teams remaining in the winners’ bracket at the Class A state softball tournament did not disappoint on Friday. Two thrilling quarterfinals ended with two-time defending champ Belgrade and last year’s runner-up Hamilton advancing to Saturday’s semifinal.
The Panthers and Broncs will now meet at 9 a.m. Saturday, with the winner advancing to the championship game scheduled for 1 p.m. Polson and Frenchtown lost the two quarterfinals but did advance through the losers’ bracket. The Pirates and Broncs now also meet at 9 a.m. Saturday, two wins away from going to the championship.
Erin Elgas came one short of a state record with 19 strikeouts. The Belgrade pitcher allowed only seven balls in play, but the undefeated defending champions had to sweat out late rallies from the Broncs. Kenna Thomas and Olivia Cook each hit solo home runs early to help put the Panthers up 2-0 after three innings. A Haylee Curry sacrifice fly made it 3-0 in the fourth. Elgas looked in complete control until Hallie Habeck drilled a solo homer in the top of the fifth. Frenchtown then loaded the bases with one out in the top of the sixth, but Elgas finished the threat with two more strikeouts. The Broncs again put two runners on base in the top of the seventh, but another Elgas strikeout ended the game. Claire Bagnell gave up only five Belgrade hits in a complete game loss.
The showdown between the Broncs and Pirates carried drama with every pitch in front of a great crowd surrounding the Pirates’ home field. Polson scored in the top of the first when Paige Noyes hit a slow dribbler in front of home plate. The throw to first base went wild, allowing Anna Vert to score from second. Hamilton answered on an bloop RBI single to left by Olivia Zepeda in the bottom of the second that brought in Madison Johnson. The game remained 1-1 into the sixth inning thanks to clutch pitching by Hamilton’s Jordan Taggert and the Polson combination of Lauren Vergeront and Katelyne Druyvestein. Then an error allowed Maggie Ringer to cross home plate and give Hamilton the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Polson advanced runners to second and third with two outs in the top of the seventh. Broncs shortstop Mikaylin Brickley scooped up a hard-hit ball by Kaylanna DesJarlais and threw to first for the out to end the game.
Stevensville 4, Lewistown 3
The Yellowjackets built a 4-1 lead in the 6th. Then held off a comeback by the Golden Eagles in the bottom of the 7th. Lewistown scored twice, and had runners on 2nd and 3rd with two outs. Relief pitcher Ashlin Hiller finished the game with a strikeout. Hiller and Haley Kampka each provided two hits and an RBI for Stevensville.
Livingston 7, Hardin 6
The Rangers started a long day by overcoming a 3-0 deficit after two innings. Three runs in the top of the 6th finally gave Livingston the lead. Shannon Nelson hit a double to put the Rangers on top for the first time. Hardin put two runners on in the bottom of the 7th, but couldn’t answer with a big hit. Livinston’s Danielle Babcox hit two solo home runs in the victory.
Columbia Falls 17, Miles City 7
The Wildkats pounded out 21 hits, including 11 runs in the first three innings. Trista Cowan went 4/5 with four doubles. Cowan, Kaylee Ashe and Jazzy Marino each drove in 3 runs. The game ended in the bottom of the 6th due to the 10-run rule.
Ronan 15, Laurel 2
The Maidens pounded out nine runs over the first two innings. Then Liz Bluemel smashed a grand slam to left in the bottom of the 5th, finishing the game due to the 10-run rule. Bluemel drove in six runs in the contest. Emilie Corley added three RBIs.
Columbia Falls 14, Ronan 0
The Wildkats second blowout win of the day came at the expense of the division-rival Maidens. Savvy Ellis pitched a three-hit complete game shutout. This one did go the distance, however. Columbia Falls scored three runs in the 3rd and three runs in the 5th to take a 6-0 lead into the final inning. Then the Wildkats exploded for eight runs in the top of the 7th. Graceanne Sevesind went 3/5 with four RBIs. Cowan continued her incredible day with four more hits, including two more doubles and a triple.
Livingston 16, Stevensville 14 (9 innings)
The Rangers survived the longest and wildest game of the class A tournament so far. Livingston led 3-1 in the top of the 2nd. Stevensville scored six in the bottom of the 4th to take a 10-3 lead. The lead grew to 13-5 after five innings. Then the Rangers stormed back with eight runs over the next two innings to tie it up and send the do-or-die game to extra innings. Both teams scored once in the 8th. Livingston plated two more in the top of the 9th, and finally held off the Yellowjackets for the victory. Fans who stuck around for the whole contest saw 30 runs, 34 hits, nine errors, eight doubles and three home runs by Livinston’s Danielle Babcox and Skylar Higgs and Stevensville’s Haley Kampka.
Polson 11, Columbia Falls 0
The hosting Pirates stayed alive, and clinched a top four finish by eliminating their division rivals. Lauren Vergeront and Ellie Thiel combined to throw a three-hit shutout for Polson. Lexi Orien hit her second home run in as many days. Paige Noyes and Savanna Carpentier each drove in two runs, as did Orien. Polson scored in every inning, but never more than three in a single inning. Two runs in the bottom of the 6th ended the game due to the 10-run rule.
Frenchtown 12, Livingston 9
The Rangers long Friday ended late in the evening, with the Broncs surviving and clinching a top-four finish. Frenchtown exploded for nine runs in the top of the 2nd to take a 9-3 lead. The margin grew to 12-3 by the top of the 6th. Then Livingston started another comeback. The Rangers scored four in the 6th and 2 in the 7th to climb back in the game. But Sadie Smith, who struck out 10 batters in four innings of relief, finally finished off Livingston. Frenchtown’s Cassidy Moen and Livingston’s Josie Jesson both hit home runs in the contest.