Havre Daily News
With a pair of wins today, the Havre High softball team would get one step closer to a Class A state tournament berth as well as a monumental step forward in the building of a successful program.
With their record sitting at 3-6 in all conference games, the Ponies will take on Ronan in a doubleheader today in what amounts to a do-or-die situation. Havre needs to finish in the top four of its conference standings to qualify for the state tournament, and at this time four teams are in competition for the final two spots. Libby and Polson are already locks for the top two spots in the conference, so third and fourth places will come down to Havre, Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Ronan.
If Havre can sweep the Ronan Maidens, the Ponies will be in a very good position because they split with both Whitefish and Columbia Falls. And if it comes down to a tiebreaker, Havre also would be in a good position because they lead in run differential over both teams.
“The girls are really excited to go down there and play,” HHS head coach Bob Evans said. “We have had a lot of positive things happen for us lately, so the girls feel pretty confident heading into our two biggest games of the season. We know what we have to do and our destiny is in our own hands, so we just have to go down there and take care of business.”
At the start of the season, few people expected the Ponies to compete for a state tournament berth because this is only their second season playing softball. But after losing their first four games of the season against Polson and Libby, the Ponies have won three of their last five games including two straight.
One of the biggest reasons for the Ponies' recent success has been the emergence of pitcher Kelsey Evans, who has given the Ponies a solid starting pitcher and a legitimate chance to win every time she steps out on the mound.
“Kelsey is just a really good leader,” Evans said. “She is a true team captain. She loves to win and she is truly a great competitor. It's been great to see her develop the way she has, and having her pitch as well as she has is great for our team.
“When the season started, she was kind of hoping she wouldn't have to pitch as much because she is a short stop,” he added. “But she understood that if the team was going to be successful she was going to have to throw for us. She decided that she was going to be our No. 1 pitcher and our go-to player.”
The Ponies will be relying heavily on Evans again today, especially with their other starting pitcher, Steph Stremcha, not making the trip. Because the team will be short a pitcher, Evans will likely start both games and will have to pitch back-to-back games for the first time this season. If Evans struggles at all or if she runs out of gas, the Ponies will turn to sophomore Stacey Sheppard, who has seen limited action on the mound for Havre this year as well as freshman Karly Evans, who will be replacing Stremcha in the rotation.
“We will be riding Kelsey's arm and she will have to be up to the task,” Evans said. “She will have to pitch both games, which is something she hasn't done before. But she is so strong and such a great competitor that I think she will be up to the challenge.”
Besides Stremcha, the Ponies also will be missing first baseman Laura Zentmire and second baseman Erika Briese. So all in all, the Ponies will be without three starting infielders because Stremcha is the regular short stop. Karly Evans will step in at second base, Stacey Sheppard will fill in at first base and Sam Mack will take over at shortstop.
“We are going to miss those girls, because they are experienced players and they are all very good hitters,” Evans said. “But the young girls we are bringing up are all very talented and athletic, and I think they will do a good job for us. Karly is a great athlete and Stacey has played well and she has gotten some big hits for us.”
Today will no doubt be the most important day in the short history of Havre softball. With two more wins, the young Ponies will come one step closer to doing something no one thought they could.
“If we are able to make it to state in our second year, (it) would be amazing,” Evans said. “It would do a lot for our program. It would show the rest of the state that we are for real and that we are building a good program. We have a lot of young players and it will be a great experience for them if we can make it to state. And it will also set the ground work for future success.”
The Ponies' doubleheader with Ronan will begin at 3 p.m. in Ronan.