Opening weekend is going to be real test for the Havre High softball team, but the Blue Ponies are looking forward to the opportunity.
Spring practices have been in full swing for a couple weeks, but it is finally time for the Central A Ponies to take the diamond against some competition. And HHS will do so Saturday at the Great Falls Jamboree in Great Falls. The Ponies will play four games, but only two will go toward the total games played this season, and none of the games will count toward the Ponies’ overall or conference records.
The Ponies will open up against three Class AA standouts, facing Billings Senior, Billings West and Butte. But the Ponies will also close out the weekend against a nonconference Class A powerhouse in the Laurel Locomotives. Each game will go five innings or have a one hour time limit.
“This is an excellent weekend for us to judge our talent and see where we need to go,” Havre High head coach Danny Wirtzberger said. “It is a good measuring stick to see what we need to work on, and what we are good at. And playing those Class AA teams, it is good for us to see a really good program and how they conduct business, so that we can also try and model ourselves after one of those Class AA teams.”
And one thing the Ponies hope to tackle Saturday is a starting lineup.
While the Ponies have some talented returning players, including a very talented group of juniors, nobody has a guaranteed position just yet. And making the trip, and battling for one of those spots will be Harlee Boucher, Paige Henderson, Jordyn Warren, Sydne Huston, Scout Boucher, China Bohn, Shania Carlson, Rachel Majeres, Morgan Mazurkiewicz, Tori Mazurkiewicz and Dani Wagner.
“We don’t have any set kids in starting positions,” Wirtzberger said. “I have thoughts on where I think kids should go, but I will have kids playing all over the map this weekend. We want to find our best lineup, so everybody is going to get playing time, and then we will go from there. But the bottom line is, we want kids that can hit, our nine best hitters are going to play, and we will find a place for them on the field.”
Facing three Class AA teams and a standout Class A team won’t be easy on the HHS batters either.
Henderson and Wagner are the top hitters returning for the Ponies, but Saturday will show the coaching staff exactly what they have for offensive power and production. And what the Ponies will do in the batters box should also determine what the Ponies do one the bases. Last year HHS was very aggressive in their base running, always looking for the extra base on a base hit or stolen base on a pass ball or wild pitch.
Speed is a great strength for the Ponies, but they may not have to take as many chances if the bats show up and stay around all season long.
“If we have better power hitting,” Wirtzberger said. “We won’t have to risk our runners by trying for the extra base all the time. We will find out which players have been playing all year, and which players have just been playing the last three weeks. There are some AA pitchers that could knock anybody down, but the pitching for the most part isn’t that much different between leagues, so I think we will see who has worked on their swing all year and who has the last couple of weeks.”
Defense and pitching will also be worked on and critiqued during the season opener.
Majeres should be the ace this year in the pitching circle, but Tori Mazurkiewicz and Wagner will also get the nod on certain occasions. This weekend Majeres will get two starts, while one start apiece will go to Wagner and Tori Mazurkiewicz. And with all of her experience, coach Wirtzberger is expecting Majeres to set herself apart with great performances Saturday. Wirtzberger also said he is looking for Majeres to settle into an early groove, and not go too deep into pitch counts. She is older and smarter, and has what it takes to keep her pitch count down, all while throwing strikes to force groundouts and pop flys.
The defense will get a good look at some talented hitters though, and it will be Havre’s first real look outside of practice.
Hopefully the girls will be able to shake off any early season rust and field the ball cleanly. It will take close to error free softball to get past the talent HHS will face, but in the 11 girls making the trip, the Ponies have what it takes to be competitive.
“This will be a good practice for our defense,” Wirtzberger said. “We don’t get to see a lot of action on the field in practice up until now, so these jamboree weekends are great for that.”
Saturday the Ponies will be in Great Falls for the Jamboree, facing Billings Senior, Billings West, Butte and Laurel. The HHS junior varsity will also open up the season today with doubleheader with Shelby starting at 4:30 p.m. at the Sixth Avenue Memorial Softball Complex in Havre.