There’s no state trophy yet, but the Havre High softball program took three giant steps in the right direction over the weekend.
The Central A Blue Ponies made their mark in Billings with three wins at the Class A State tournament at the Stewart Park Softball Complex. On Thursday the Ponies went 2-1 in their first three games. HHS started the tournament with an 8-5 win over the Anaconda Copperheads, but then fell 7-4 to the Billings Central Rams later that afternoon.And capping off day one, the Ponies came back Thursday evening to capture a 4-3 win over the Sidney Eagles.
On Friday the Ponies split their two games. They earned a big 8-4 win over the Laurel Locomotives in eight innings, but then fell 6-1 to the Frenchtown Broncs, knocking the Ponies out of the tournament.
“I though it was awesome,” Havre High head coach Bob Evans said. “The girls played beyond my expectations.
I didn’t know what to expect, but the girls played extremely well and I was really, really pleased. We were in tough ballgames and in every ballgame when the going got tough, the girls got tough also. I was just really, really proud of them.” In the Ponies' three previous trips to the state tournament wins were hard to come by. They were 0-6 overall, but finally turned in a break-through performance with now three state wins in the books.
“That really took the monkey off our back,” Evans said. “We had been in some good games at the state tournament before, but were never able to win one. This time we were in some close ball games and won them.” In the Ponies' three wins this weekend they did a lot of growing up. No win came easy, and though at times the Ponies faced adversity, they also showed they had what it took to overcome it.
Facing the Copperheads Thursday morning, the ballgame was tight to start. Anaconda went up 1-0 in the top of the first and the Ponies answered with a run in the bottom of the first by a leadoff solo homerun by Abigail Ita. The game was tied 1-1 through the third, but in the bottom of the fourth the Ponies took a 3-1 lead when two runs scored off a Dylann Williams fly ball that was dropped by the Anacondas right fielder.
In the fifth inning the Ponies faced their first real threat. The Copperheads scored four runs on three hits including a two-run homerun by Lisa Laslovich to take a 5-3 lead. But the Ponies rallied in the sixth and did what they had to do to capture the program's first state win.
Ita scored on a passed ball after earning her way aboard with a walk.
Davee McLeod and Holly Cartwright also earned walks in the inning, while Williams had a bloop single. Andrea Nault got aboard on a throwing error that also cleared the bases, giving the Ponies three more runs and a 7-5 lead.
Tabitha Myers also had an RBI on a sacrifice fly that gave the Ponies an 8-5 lead and victory.
Myers was on the mound for the Ponies and gave up five runs on five hits in the win. She also had seven strikeouts.
The Pony offense had six hits, and was led by Nault, Myers, Kelli Kelsey, Ita, Ciara Donovan and Williams who all had one hit each. Ita and Myers also had an RBI apiece.
In Thursday’s win over Sidney, the Ponies faced a similar situation.
HHS led 3-0 after four innings of play, but the Eagles scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth to knot things up at 3-3. The Eagles had two hits in the inning, but scored the three runs on a Janae Moore homerun, forcing the Ponies to rally late in the game once again.
Myers had an RBI in the first inning on a sacrifice fly, and Kelsey had two RBIs on a single in the third. But it was Williams who drove in Cartwright for the winning run in the top of the seventh on an RBI double to keep the Ponies' tournament alive.
Ita started the ballgame for HHS and pitched five complete innings where she gave up three runs on only four hits.
Myers came on in relief in the sixth and pitched two shutout innings with only two hits, but three strikeouts in her and the Ponies second win of the weekend.
Cartwright, Roxanna Jensen and Ita were all 1-of-3, while Williams was 1-of- 2 against the Eagles. Kelsey led the way going 2-of-4 with two RBIs.
The Ponies got their third win of the weekend against the Locomotives in extra innings on Friday morning.
In the top of the second inning Kelsey kick-started the Ponies with a leadoff double. Chelsea Nottingham followed with a single while Ita earned an RBI on a sacrifice fly ball. Donovan and Alex Herrig earned back-to-back walks and Donovan scored on a pass ball before Cartwright drove in Herrig on with a single.
The Ponies went up 3-0 and maintained the three-run lead before making it a 4-0 lead in the fifth when Cartwright scored after a Laurel throwing error.
In the bottom of the fifth the Locomotives got on the board after three hits to cut the Pony lead to 4-1.
But it was the bottom of the seventh where the Locomotives did the most damage. On two hits, two Pony errors and a wild pitch the Locomotives scored three runs and tied the ballgame at 3-3 before the Ponies were able to get the third out and escape with a chance at a win in extra innings.
HHS was fortunate enough to get the bats going again in the top of the eighth inning. Myers led off with a walk and two batters later Nottingham hit a single. Ita also earned a base on balls to load the bases for Donovan. Donovan was struck out for the second out of the inning, but freshman McLeod was poised and got the job done with a bases clearing, three RBI double to right-center field. McLeod also scored on a wild pitch to give the Ponies the 8-4 victory.
“With two outs you have to do whatever you have to do,” McLeod said. “And I was just focused on hitting the ball, trying to get on base and trying to get runs in. I finally connected with the ball and tried to keep a serious face and just focused on scoring.” Myers got her third win of the weekend after giving up four runs on seven hits. Offensively, the Ponies were led by Nottingham who had two hits, and Cartwright, McLeod and Kelsey who all had a hit apiece as well. McLeod had three RBIs including the game winner.
It took a lot for the Ponies to come away with three wins. They had their ups and downs, but behind great senior leadership got the job done. Seniors Ita, Cartwright, Myers and Kelsey combined for nine hits in the three wins, and played a big part in the one comefrom- behind win as well as the two wins where they gave away, but regained the lead.
“It’s a sign of the experience from last year and the year before,” Evans said. “They (seniors) knew we could win and they really stepped up.
“It showed a signs of a good team,” Evans added. “That we could overcome some of the problems we had and still come back and win ballgames.” But the rest of the ball club played well also. And the molding of freshmen McLeod, Roxanna Jensen and Mary Lyons really paid dividends. All three freshmen had their moments, and added depth to the Ponies' roster. Having them also allowed the Ponies to make changes offensively and defensively that they weren’t able to do earlier in the season.
On the weekend as a whole, McLeod, Jensen and Lyons all combined for nine hits.
“It was great,” Evans said. “They (freshmen) really helped out. If we wouldn’t have taken them along and kind of brought them around late in the season than I am not so sure we would have won some of those ballgames.” The losses to the No. 1 Rams and No. 1 Broncs sent the Ponies home, but not without a fight.
Thursday against the Rams, the Ponies struck first, taking a 2-0 lead. But in the bottom of the first the Rams came back to take a 3-2 lead on three hits. The Rams would lead 3-2 through three innings, but the Ponies would turn the tables once again.
HHS put together a Jensen double, McLeod sacrifice bunt, Williams’s sacrifice fly and a Cartwright single to earn a run and tie the game at 3-3 in the fourth. And in the fifth the Ponies put together a Myers single, Kelsey single and a Nottingham RBI to take the 4-3 lead.
Ita also got on board to load the bases with no outs, but the Ponies had nothing going as Jensen struck out, McLeod hit into a force out and Williams grounded out to end the inning.
The Ponies had the Rams on the ropes, and were a couple more hits from what could have been a completely different ballgame.
“One more base hit and we may sent them to the showers,” Evans said. “The next three batters didn’t get the job done, they did during the tournament, but not during that particular inning. If we could have gotten another base hit we may have broken that game wide open. It didn’t happen, but we had our chance.” The Rams went on to score four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning for the 7-4 win.
Facing Frenchtown on Friday afternoon, the Ponies really had just one bad inning.
Myers started the game on the mound and gave up two runs in the top of the first inning. HHS earned a run of their own in the bottom of the first on a Kelsey RBI, but that would be it for the offense.
In the second inning the Broncs loaded the bases, and Keller Leishman cleared them with a grand slam. With the homerun, Leishman gave the Broncs the 6-1 lead.
Myers pitched through the third inning, but Ita came on in relief. Ita pitched outstanding in her four innings of work allowing no runs and striking out four. But the Pony offense wasn’t able to get the bats going, and suffered the 6-1 loss.
“She (Ita) came in and did her job,” Evans said. “She came in and we were down, I was hoping she could come in and hold and we could score some runs.
She did her job.” Cartwright, Williams, Lyons and McLeod all had a hit for the Ponies.
On the weekend overall, the Ponies played well. They got good production from their offense, played good defense and got outstanding pitching by both Ita and Myers. And with her three wins on the mound, Myers set a single season record for most wins by a Pony pitcher with 12.
“It’s a great feeling,” Myers said.
“We worked hard all weekend. I am really proud of the team, I am proud of how we came out and I am glad the way it ended.” The Ponies made big steps in a positive direction over the weekend. Their three state wins capped off a great season and made it their most successful state trip in their young career. And even though they came up short when it comes to placing at state this season, they made headway for seasons to come.
“I thought played really well,” Evans said. “With the way things turned out and how we played, I am extremely happy with my kids. They are great competitors."
Polson wound up winning the Class A state title.