Chris Peterson Havre Daily News email@example.com
Over the last two seasons, the Havre High softball team has established itself as a perennial state tournament team. Yet, entering the fourth season since their inception in Class A fastpitch softball, the Blue Ponies are looking to take a big leap forward as they get set to take on Browning in the seasonopener for both teams this afternoon in Havre. “We have had a reasonable amount of success over the last two years, which gives us something to build on,” HHS head coach Bob Evans said. “But we want to take another step forward. I think we have some good players back that are experienced, so hopefully we can get on the next level with the top teams in the state.” The key to winning in Class A softball games is pitching. HHS has been able to pitch its way into the state tournament behind the arms of Kelsey Evans in 2006, then Steph Stremcha last season. And Stremcha is back for her senior season and she will be the anchor of the pitching staff. Stremcha along with junior Karly Evans, gives the Ponies two strong starters in their rotation. “I feel good about our pitching heading into the season,” Evans said. “I think that Steph and Karly will be pitching almost every game for us, so we know that they can do it. We are definitely going to rely a lot on their experience. I think our defense will also be better, but our pitching is going to be a really big key to our success.” While Stremcha will be the ace of the staff, Evans will be the second starter and will also start in the outfield and at times, shortstop, when she’s not on the mound. The remainder of the starting infield includes senior Danika Patterson at first base, junior Sam Mack at shortstop, sophomore Holly Cartwright at third base, as well as Tabitha Beck at second base and Jessica Obrecht at catcher. The starting outfield will feature Evans, Tiffany Ranes and Tabitha Myers. Stremcha will also see time in both the infield and outfield when she is not pitching. Backups include Kelly Kelsey at catcher, Natalie Kato as both and infielder and outfielder along with Abi Ita, who will see time in the outfield and as a pitcher. The batting order will rely heavily on the trio of Cartwright, Evans and Mack in the first three spots. In the fourth, fifth and sixth spots, Havre will march out the strong trio of Stremcha, Patterson and Ranes. Rounding out the order for the Ponies will be Obrecht, Beck and Myers. “Last year the first three girls were pretty good about getting on base, so hopefully they can do that again this year,” Evans said. “If we can get on base then it will be up to our more powerful hitters in the middle to produce the runs. But I think that right now we have a pretty balanced batting order.” Havre, which is one of the six teams in Class A's Western Division, which also includes 2007 state runner-up Libby, as well as Polson, Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Browning. The top four teams in the conference following the season will clinch spots in the Class A state tournament. Libby and Polson are far and away to two teams to beat in the league, with Havre, Whitefish and Columbia Falls all in contention for the third and fourth spots at state. The Ponies will open the season tonight at the Sixth Avenue Softball Field against conference foe Browning at 4. Last season, HHS has swept Browning with ease in each of the past two seasons. “We have had their number the last couple of years,” Evans said. “But it’s a conference home game and it is important that we win it."