Havre Daily News
Last weekend was historic for the Havre High softball team. But after clinching a berth in the class A state softball tournament, the Ponies faltered in back-to-back games the next day against Cut Bank and Conrad at Sixth Avenue Memorial Field.
When the Ponies head to Laurel today for the Laurel Invitational, they will face a stern test that should help prepare them for what they will face at state. They also are hoping to regain some of the momentum they may have lost with the losses to Cut Bank and Conrad.
The Ponies will play four opponents in two days with the tournament taking place today and Saturday. The Ponies will face off against state tournament favorites Laurel and Billings Central, as well as Glendive and Huntley Project.
“Laurel and Billings Central are the two top teams in the eastern conference and they are both favorites to win state or at least to do well at state,” HHS head coach Bob Evans said. “It's definitely going to give us a good chance to go up against some very good competition. We played some good teams at the beginning of the year, but now after we have gotten some more experience it will be interesting to see how we perform.”
The tournament is going to be the Ponies final tune-up for the state tournament so it would do wonders for their confidence if they could sneak out a victory against a top-level opponent.
“It will be good for us to kind of see where we stand heading into state,” Evans said. “But, if we are going to compete its going to come down to pitching like it always does in softball. We are going to have to pitch well and we are also going to have to play solid defense, which goes along with your pitching, because if you pitcher is pitching well things become a lot easier for your defense.”
In the last month or so the Ponies have turned to Kelsey Evans when they have needed a big game from a pitcher and for the most part she has been able to get the job done. However, Evans struggled a little bit last Saturday against Conrad, giving up nine runs including seven runs in the top of the third that doomed her club in a 9-2 loss. Evans has lost games before this season and she has always risen to the challenge when her team has needed her as evidenced by her five wins in her last five conference starts. If the Ponies are going to have success this weekend it will be because of the right arm of Kelsey Evans.
“Kelsey really didn't pitch that badly against Conrad,” Evans said. “She just had one bad inning and that was about it. If we would have gotten a few more breaks and made a play here or there she probably would have had the chance to win another game, so I am not worried about her at all. I expect her to be at her best.”
The Ponies also need to find a way to get more production out of their lineup if they are going to knock off the upper-echelon teams. The Ponies have a number of solid hitters including Kelsey Evans, Erika Briese, Sam Mack, McKayla Patterson, and many others. But they need to find a way to produce more runs.
“I think because we don't have as deep a pitching staff as some of the top contenders do, we have to rely a little bit more on our batting and our defense,” Evans said. “We have been playing ok defensively, but we need to get some more production at the plate. We have had a lot of opportunities to score some runs and get some big innings going but we just haven't been able to take advantage of that.
“We don't have the ability to shut a team out or hold them to one run because of our pitching and defense,” He added. “So, we have to be able to put some runs on the boards or we are not going to be able to do any damage against the top teams in the state.”
As far as any concerns about the team being complacent Evans was sure that his team would not be simply satisfied by qualifying for state, but they want to do more and they are focused on that goal.
“I think that the girls are excited about going down and playing in this tournament,” Evans said. “It gives them a chance to play against some of the best teams in the state and they're fired up about that. We may have had a little bit of a letdown last weekend, but I don't anticipate that happening this weekend because the girls are excited to get out there and show what they can do.”
The Ponies will play at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday, and Saturday they will play at 12:30 p.m. and also at 3:30 p.m. with all games played in Laurel.