George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
In only its third year in existence, the young Havre High fastpitch softball team is about to make its second straight Class A state tournament appearance. That’s pretty remarkable considering the program was only pieced together a little over five years ago, and it began as a club sport. But today, when the Blue Ponies take on the Frenchtown Broncs at 1 p. m. in the opening round of the 2007 Class A state tournament in Polson, HHS head coach Bob Evans is hoping his team takes the next step in the maturation process even if that doesn’t necessarily mean winning the game with the Broncs. “I think all the kids are really excited about getting back to state,” Evans said. “It shows us that we’re headed in the right direction. “But I am hoping that we are competitive in every inning of every game we play this weekend,” he added. “Last year, we really only competed for about three or four innings at the state tournament, so I think it would be really nice if we can stay in each ballgame and maybe even get a win or two. That would be big for our program.” The Ponies went 10-12 overall this season and finished 6-6 in the Western A Conference. That record was good enough for a fourth-place finish for the second straight year, and a return trip to the state tourney. And despite the loss of All- Conference player Kelsey Evans, pitching has once again been the strong suit for a relatively young HHS team. “Steph Stremcha and Karly Evans have both pitched really well all season,” Bob Evans said. “Pitching has really been what has allowed to us win as many games as we have. Steph, especially, has been extremely tough this year.” But good pitching means strikes and hits instead of balls and walks, and throwing strikes means players put the ball in play. And the one area of weakness for HHS this year has been defense. And if the Ponies are to win a game or more this weekend in Polson, Bob Evans said that defense will play a key role. “Obviously pitching is the big key, and you do have to score some runs in this tournament,” Bob Evans said. “But our defense has to play better than it has all season if we’re going to stay in games. Defense is what hurt us last year and it’s what prevented us from winning at least two or three more games this season. We have to play good defense behind our pitchers in this tournament.” At the plate, Stremcha is the catalyst for an HHS team that averages around six runs per game this season. Erika Briese, Stacey Sheppard, Holly Cartwright, Sam Mack and Jessica Obrecht have all hit the ball well for HHS, as has Katie McLeod and Tereyl Schrauger. Today’s opening game between the Ponies and Broncs is a rematch of a non-league meeting between the two teams two weeks ago in Butte. Frenchtown, the No. 3 seed from the Southern A, beat the Ponies 10-1 in Butte. “They are a really good team,” Bob Evans said. “They can hit and pitch, and they play solid defense. So they are just an all-around good ballclub. They also come from what I think is the toughest division in Class A too. So they have played a lot of tough teams this season.” The state tournament starts this morning with Columbia Falls, the No. 2 seed from the West, taking on Sidney, the No. 4 from the East at 11 a.m. The other 11 a.m. game pits Billings Central, the No. 3 from the East, against Libby, the No. 3 from the West. At the same time HHS and Frenchtown square off, Belgrade, the No. 2 from the East, will face Butte Central, the No. 4 from the South. Hamilton, Laurel, Corvallis and Polson all have byes and will all play later tonight. If the Ponies win, they will face Polson tonight at 5. If they lose, they will square off against the loser of the Belgrade/Butte Central game on Friday at 11 a.m. The semifinals are slated for Friday at 1 p.m. and the first championship game is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p. m. The tournament is a true doubleelimination format where a team must lose twice in order to be eliminated. “This is a tough tournament,” Bob Evans said. “There are a lot of good teams, and I think any one of the top four seeds could win it. “I am just hoping we go down there an play well the whole tournament,” he added. “It would be nice to get some wins, and I think we are capable of that, but I really want us to just make sure we are competitive the entire tournament. I think that’s really important.” The 2007 Class A state softball tournament will run from today through Saturday and will be conducted on two fields in Polson.