Havre Daily News Sports Editor
Let's try this home opener thing again. After a nasty spring rainstorm washed out the Havre fast pitch softball team's home opener last Saturday, the Ponies will play their first home game of the season tonightat 4 against the Libby Loggers at the Sixth Avenue Memorial Softball Field. Havre will turn around and face Columbia Falls on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
For Havre head coach Bob Evans, last weekend's rainouts were a missed opportunity in several respects. For starters, the Ponies were scheduled to play against Browning and Livingston, two of the weaker teams in Class A.
"Not playing last weekend really hurt us," Evans said. "We were really looking forward to playing, especially against teams that were more at our level in terms of experience."
While Pony victories were far from a guarantee, Havre would have been more than competitive against teams in similar situations. Instead, the Ponies have the luxury of facing one of the top teams Class A in the Loggers.
Libby is loaded with talent, if not experience. The Loggers won the Western A Division last year, but didn't place at state.
Libby is in a bit of rebuilding mode as first-team all-state pitcher Jodi Gillan graduated, along with all-state first baseman Anna Byrns and outfielder Nicole Kehn.
Libby replaces Gillan with a pair of freshmen in Brooke Hageness and Lacie Dedrick. Hageness already owns a victory over Eureka this season.
The Loggers return several solid position players, led by senior all-state shortstop Nicole Rowan, who led the team in hitting last season. Also returning is second-team all-state second baseman Sam Schultz and all-conference catcher Terri Riebo to form a solid nucleus.
"Libby is very good from what I understand," Evans said. "They are supposed to be every bit as good as Whitefish. So it's going to be a tough game."
Things will get only marginally easier on Saturday against Columbia Falls. The WildKats, who finished 5-15 last season, are led by senior pitcher Kym Island, who put in a ton of work in the off season. The Kats also have a solid rotation, featuring senior Amanda Puryer and sophomore Jennifer Johnson.
Besides pitching, the WildKats will use its overall team speed to put pressure on the Ponies defense.
Senior center fielder Kalee Wold and senior first baseman Lea Bukowski are solid players, while senior shortstop Stephanie Davis, junior outfielder Crystal Ramsey and sophomore catcher Shannon Anderson should all contribute.
"Columbia Falls isn't supposed to quite as tough as Libby, but they are still going to be very good," Evans said. "They are an established team and they have some good players."
Evans is realistic about his team's chances this weekend. He knows that the Ponies will have to play near-perfect softball just to be competitive.
"We know that getting wins against these teams will be very tough," he said. "I really just want us to come out be better than we were in our first game. I think we are improving, but we need to see that in a game."
Evans has seen his players improving from practice-to-practice this week, until Mother Nature reared her ugly head.
"We worked really hard defensively early in the week and we scrimmaged on Wednesday," he said. "We had hoped to work a lot on our offense (Thursday) but we couldn't get outside."
Hopefully, the practice improvement translates to game improvement.
"I'm really looking for the girls to raise their level of play with the level of competition," Evans said. "We need to play good defense, put the ball in play and avoid big innings."
Havre's ace Kristin Evanson will start tonight, while Evans looks to shortstop Kelsey Evans, third baseman Whitney Barnekoff and first baseman Laura Zentmire to anchor the Ponies.
"Kristin throws strikes and knows what she needs to do out there," he said. "Kelsey is just solid in the field. Whitney is really coming around defensively and we've worked with Laura and she's hitting the ball much harder."
But the big thing for Evans and the Ponies is getting out on the field and playing in front of family and friends.
"The girls are just pumped up to get out there and play at home," Evans said. "We know its going to be tough games, but I know we'll go out and compete and play hard."