Daniel Horton Havre Daily News email@example.com
The road to becoming state champions won’t be an easy one for the Western A Havre High softball team, but a rough road is better than not making the trip at all. On Thursday-Saturday, the Blue Ponies (14-7-1, 6-4) will be in Polson for the 2009 Class A State Softball Tournament. The tournament will take place at the Polson Softball Complex, where 12 talented Class A programs from across the state hope to vie for this year's state championship. Game One on Thursday will take place on field one at 11 a.m., where the Ronan Maidens (2C) face the Libby Loggers (4W). And Game two will take place on field two at 11 a.m., where the Frenchtown Broncs (3C) will face the Ponies (3W). Game three on Thursday will begin at 1 p.m. when the Columbia Falls Wildkats (2W) will take on the Livingston Rangers (4E) on field one. And game four will also start at 1 p.m., when the Laurel Locomotives (3E) will take on the Corvallis Blue Devils (4C) on field two. The Belgrade Panthers (1E) will await the winners of the Maidens/Loggers matchup on field one, at 3 p.m. on Thursday. And the Polson Pirates (1W) will await the winner of the Broncs/ Ponies matchup on field two, also at 3 p.m. And in the bottom part of the bracket, the Billings Central Rams (2E) will face the winners of the Wildkats/Rangers game on field one. And the Butte Central Maroons (1C) will face the winner of the Locomotives/Blue Devils game on field two. Both games will take place on Thursday at 5 p.m. Both the Broncs and the Ponies are entering the tournament as the No. 3 seed in their respected conferences. And after the hype the Broncs received early in the season, it came as a shock to the Ponies that’s who they were playing in the first round. “I was kind of surprised to hear that’s who we are playing.” Havre High head coach Bob Evans said. “I heard earlier in the year that they were going to be the team to beat, but that changes.” Like a good portion of the competition this weekend, the Ponies won’t really know what they are up against until the game gets underway. But word travels fast across Montana, so HHS isn’t completely in the dark. The Broncs have a good pitching staff and also hit the ball very well across the lineup. But if there were an area of slight weakness, it would have to be their defense. It isn’t quite up to the standards of the rest of their play, but the Broncs are still a very good team, and know how to win. But with that said, if the Ponies play well and execute how they have throughout the season they should be fine in first round play. “I don’t know why we wouldn’t be ok really.” Evans said. “I don’t know much about them, but what I do know is that we have played some good teams and have competed fairly well. If our girls are ready and things go right I am assuming we should be able to compete with them.” If the confidence the Ponies are carrying into their matchup with the Broncs translates into a win on Thursday, HHS will then face the Western conferences No. 1 seed in the Pirates. The Ponies and Pirates crossed paths twice during the regular season, and in both cases the Pirates defeated the Ponies. First the Pirates won 8-4, and then 10-4. In both meetings the Ponies competed, but just couldn’t get out of an offensive slump. In game one they earned a lot of walks, but also struck out nearly 12 times, stranding 13 runners on base. And in the second meeting, it was just the hot Pirate bats that did all the damage, earning 10 runs on 15 hits, including three doubles, a triple and a homerun. This time around the Ponies are looking for different results. They didn’t play to their capabilities the first time around and know this meeting could go any way. “I am not afraid of facing them (Pirates).” Evans said. “We just have to go out and play and do our best. If you win you win, and if you lose you lose.” But with the talent in the Ponies side of the bracket, doing their best will be key for whomever they find themselves up against. And the shortest path for the Ponies isn’t necessarily the least resistant. While teams in the bottom half of the bracket have one No. 1 team to contend with, the Ponies may very well have to face two No. 1 teams, in the Panthers and Pirates. The defending state champion Locomotives won’t be an easy task either, nor will the Ronana Maidens who have great talent on the mound and could easily make their way to the championship game. “If I had my druthers I would rather be there (bottom of the bracket),” Evans said. “I think we are better than the two (Columbia Falls), three (Laurel) and four (Livingston/Corvallis) teams over there. But you don’t get a chance to pick that and we just have to play who we play.” And depending on who the Ponies see this weekend, they may or may not have seen them previously in the season. In their most recent games, the Ponies tied the Rams 6-6, lost to the Panthers 7-6 and defeated the Locomotives 6-5 in another close matchup. And against the conference rival Wildkats; the Ponies lost 7-5 and 2-1 this season. If the Ponies didn’t win a game this season, chances are they were right there in it till the end. And though the Ponies have had success over some of the programs in this weekend's field, teams can’t be overlooked at a state tournament. “I think we are a better team right now than we were early,” Evans said. “But I am sure all the rest of them are also.” To be successful this weekend, the Ponies are going to have to rely on what has made them successful all season long. They will need excellent pitching, good at bats and a solid defense. “If we don’t get good pitching,” Evans said. “And our kids collapse defensively we cant compete. We just have to play great softball, that’s why you are at the state tournament.” Senior Karly Evans is leading the Ponies pitchers with a record of 5-2. She is a team leader, and has probably been the most consistent on the mound. “She is a senior, she should be,” Coach Evans said. “She went out on the mound and pitched well every ball game. She didn’t walk very many and made our defense better cause she makes people make plays. She doesn’t strike out a lot of batters, she makes them put it in play and makes the defense play well.” Tabitha Myers (5-3) and Abigail Ita (4-2-1) have also been outstanding on the mound for the Ponies. And while all three pitchers will see their share of playing time this weekend it will be Karly Evans who will be getting the nod on Thursday to face the Broncs. “They have all three pitched all year long against everybody,” Evans said. “I am just starting Evans because she is a senior and she has more experience.” Offensively for the Ponies, Sam Mack is leading the club with a .470 batting average. And Holly Cartwright is leading the team in RBIs. But HHS is going to need good production from the entire lineup if they want their goal of becoming state champs to become a reality. “We have to hit the ball and score runs.” Evans said. “Just like any offense we have to come out swinging and hope we can score runs and be aggressive. You want to be consistent and put pressure on a team for all seven innings. Any team we face is a state tournament team so we are going to see good quality teams. So you throw it up in the air and hope you come out on top.” HHS will open their third appearance in four years at the Class A state tournament Thursday morning at 11 a.m. against Frenchtown. The state tourney runs through Saturday in Polson.