By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
For the Havre fast pitch club softball team, this weekend is kind of like its state tournament.
Since the team isn't a sanctioned in the MHSA, today's tournament in Belgrade will be the biggest and best tournament in its short season.
"It is the closest thing we have to a state tournament," said head coach Kim Staudinger. "Our girls are taking the attitude of having nothing to lose and everything to gain. It's a chance for them to go down and prove themselves. If we can put together two or three good games. It would say a lot."
It would say more than a lot for Havre to win two or three games, considering the competition Havre will face.
"This is by far the best tourney we will to go to," Staudinger said. "I had to pull some strings to get us in the tournament. They have good teams that come here."
Havre will get a taste of one of those good teams right away when it opens the tournament against a very tough Laurel squad at noon today.
The Locomotives have been to the state tournament the last four years and have several good returning players led by all-state catcher Megan McLeod, who hit .433 last season. Laurel also has a solid centerfield in junior Kiley Myers, who also hit .463 last season and pitcher Kaity Strever, who pitched well at last year's state tourney.
"Laurel's a solid team," Staudinger said. "I talked to a couple of coaches and they said that Laurel is the real deal. One good thing is that they probably overlook us and won't throw their best pitcher."
Indeed, the Locomotives most likely won't be the only team overlooking Havre, since it is a first-year program.
Havre will face Sidney at 6 p.m. today and then face Shepherd at 11 a.m. Saturday and Belgrade at 5 p.m. Saturday night.
"I'm sure teams won't be expecting a lot from us because they don't know much about us other than we're a first-year program," Staudinger said. "I think we may surprise them a little."
For Havre to pull off any surprises, it must play complete games - getting consistent performances in hitting, pitching and defense.
The hitting will definitely be a challenge as Havre will face the best pitchers it's seen all season. There won't be any lollipop pitches floating over the plate. The pitches will come in fast and consistent.
"All of the pitcher we will see will all probably have been pitching more than 10 years," Staudinger said. "They are going to throw the ball hard and we have to be prepared."
While the opponent's pitching will be consistent, Havre's will also have to be consistent. Thus far this season, pitcher Kristin Evanson has been solid, striking out 10 batters in her last outing against Shelby. But the hitters will be a little tougher, a little more patient and a little more aggressive.
"I don't think Kristin is going to go in there and strike out 10 batters in a game," Staudinger said. "These are good hitters that are going to adapt to what she's throwing."
With hitters putting the ball in play, Havre's defense needs to shore up its performance. So far, it has been a little shaky at times. It is more than a minor concern for Staudinger.
"Our defense needs to be consistent," Staudinger said. "We have to play good defense because they are going to hit the ball against us."
Even with the solid competition and her team's relative inexperience, Staudinger is still confident in her squad.
"I think 3-1 is a very realistic possibility," Staudinger said. "No team is going to expect us to come and play well. We can use that surprise factor and play well. Even if we went 1-3, I still wouldn't be disappointed."
Why? Mainly because Havre is still a first-year program trying to find out what it will take to be successful at the high school level.
"The girls are excited," Staudinger said. "They know that this is a chance to see good teams and play against them to see how we are doing. And also show them that we are a good team."