BELGRADE — The Columbia Falls WildKats won their first ever State A softball title on Saturday after a hard fought 8-3 victory against Billings Central… and Mother Nature.
Oh, also sprinklers. More on that later.
Shortly before the start of the title game, a storm rolled through Belgrade. It drenched the field, pelted the fans with hail and was punctuated with thunder and lightning.
At one point, a funnel cloud formed above the fields.
When the storm let up, officials, decision was made to move game from the Belgrade Softball Complex to Gallatin High School in Bozeman.
“Crazy is a good way to put it. I mean, perseverance is what the kids have,” said head coach Dave Kehr. “Oh, my gosh. I mean, what didn't we have? Thunder, lightning, hail, sprinklers. I mean, what a great job these girls did. They just hung in there. Crazy is a great word for it.”
The WildKats didn’t let the elements wash away their momentum. Columbia Falls scored three runs in the top of the first inning, with star short strop Syd Mann belting a two run home run in the frame.
Billings Central responded with a run in the bottom half to make it 3-1, and then the game was hit with another delay due to lightning in the area.
During the 30-minute delay, both teams retreated to their dugouts and kept loose by signing songs and dancing.
“Just staying positive and focus. A lot of focus,” Mann said. “And just having our mindset on one thing and then being able to come out with that victory is super exciting.
The Rams struck first after the break when Brooke Thompson drove in Genevieve Hastings on a single in the bottom of the third to cut the lead to one run.
But the WildKats broke the game open in the top of the fifth. RBI singles from from Mann, Maddy Collins and Kyrah Trenkle made it 6-2. Two solo home runs from Demye Rensel and Aspen Dawson in the sixth inning pushed the lead to 8-2.
In the bottom of the seventh inning Columbia Falls had two outs and two strikes on the Rams before the world threw the a final curve ball at the State A tournament.
The outfield sprinklers turned on which led to another five minute delay as officials rushed to find a way to turn them off. When play resumed, it took just two pitches from Maddie Moultray to put the Rams away for the second time in two days.
And the celebration was on.
“It's so exciting to become Columbia Falls first ever state champion team. And I have no doubt that these girls will continue in the next season,” said Syd Mann. “It's just so surreal. I can't even describe how happy I am right now. And I wouldn't want to win with any other team or any other coach.”
It’s a long time coming for coach Kehr who has led the WildKats softball team for 26 seasons.
“Just top to bottom. They got speed, they got power, they got perseverance. Somebody is coming through all the time,” Kehr said. “I mean, just all the way through the lineup they just keep coming back at you, coming back. You can't let up or somebody is going to burn you if you do. So it's just it's a good lineup.”
Mann finished the game 2-for-4 with two runs and three RBI. Moultray gave up just one earned run on three hits while striking out 11 in a complete game.
Brooke Thompson led the Rams with two hits and two RBI.
The victory made it 20 straight wins for the WildKats to close the season. A run that couldn’t be derailed by rain, wind, lightning, hail, sprinklers or a deep and talented field at the state tournament.
“We're excited. We just wanted to keep going, keep it rolling,” Mann said. “And that's exactly what we did.”
Billings Central finished runner up at state for a second straight year. The Laurel Locomotives earned a third place trophy after falling to the Rams in the third place game, 13-4.