Play Ball: Ponies get going in Great Falls
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Daniel Horton Havre Daily News [email protected]
The relatively young program is entering into its fifth season, and already the Havre High softball team is showing great promise. On Saturday, with weather permitting, the Class A Blue Ponies are on the road to take part in the Great Falls Jamboree in their 2009 season debut. While at the jamboree, the Ponies will find themselves up against some tough Class AA teams. And each game played will either be five innings long, or played within a one-hour time limit. To start the jamboree, the Ponies will first face Great Falls High. And to follow, the Ponies will take on CMR, Butte and then Bozeman. Facing some tough Class AA teams as a season opener works out perfect for the Ponies. “Most of the AA teams are pretty good ball clubs.” Havre High head coach Bob Evans said. “We go down there with the idea we get to play all of our girls and get an idea where they stand and how well they are going to compete. It isn't so much winning or losing.” Traveling to Great Falls also offers one last shot at getting a look at the Ponies' remaining gaps in the starting roster. With no games behind them, the varsity roster isn't completely set in stone. And with four games on Saturday, coach Evans will have ample time to evaluate the remaining players looking to fill a spot on the field. “We still have holes we are trying to fill.” Evans said. “And with this weekend, that will probably give us a better idea if they are going to play the positions we are working them at right now.” Having to face four nonconference teams this weekend, preparations have been moderately general and broad. More than anything, the jamboree is being used as one last gauge before really digging into the season. A year ago, the Ponies overcame a rocky start to their season and finished strong. After starting 1-8 they won 10 out of their last 13 games to achieve a .500 finish at 11-11. And though they missed out on a trip to the state tournament, the Ponies are hoping last years' finish propels them into a strong start this year. “I think we are ahead of where we were last year.” Evans said. “I am comfortable with what I am seeing so far, we just need to step it up a little bit. And that will happen after we get into competition.” It was the Ponies' slow start to last season that kept them from a state bid. All of their conference games were grouped in the beginning of the schedule, and after dropping those; a top four finish was out of the picture. But this year, a top four finish and trip to state is at the top of the team's goals. “Every year we are just trying to get a little better and add a little depth to our varsity.” Evans said. “They take four teams out of our conference. Our goal is to get in that third or fourth spot. We want to finish in the top four so we can make it to the state tournament.” It isn't going to be an easy road for the Ponies. They do have a more favorable schedule this year with their conference games more spread out, but they are in an extremely tough league. The Ponies are up against teams like Browning, Whitefish and Columbia Falls. And not only that, Polson and Libby who are also conference opponents for HHS have won three out of the last five state championships in Class A. “We have probably the toughest conference in the state.” Evans said. “We just want to get out there and learn how to compete and try to be in every ball game. Winning and losing is important of course, but for us we just want to compete and challenge everybody. If we do that we think it will be a good season for us.” The returning players the Ponies are welcoming back to the varsity squad will give them a big boost in the right direction this season. Junior Natalie Kato joins seniors Karly Evans and Samantha Mack, and they all three have extensive varsity experience as starters. Juniors Kelli Kelsey, Holly Cartwright, Tabitha Myers and Abi Ita also rejoin the varsity squad, giving the Ponies a solid core to work with. Coach Evans is also welcoming back Amanda Hanson and Leanne Robinson. They are moving up from junior varsity, and join an already strong group of seniors. But the Ponies are also seeing promising play from a group of sophomores fighting for a varsity spot. Included in the hunt for a varsity position are Andrea Nault, Paighton Gilman, Cortney Bricker and Chelsea Nottingham. “They (Nault, Gilman, Bricker and Nottingham) are looking pretty good.” Evans said. “They just need some playing time and more experience.” Overall, the Ponies are looking very strong early in the season. With returning talent and new talent arising from the underclassman, they are in very good shape. With players like Cartwright returning to third base, Mack returning to play shortstop, Kelsey returning to second base, Myers in center field and Evans returning to left field, the Ponies already have a good building point. “We have all the experience back in those spots.” Evans said. “So I think we should be able to play pretty solid defense. If our pitchers can throw strikes and keep the ball in the ballpark, with our defense that should keep us in games.” But like coach Evans said, even with all that returning talent, it is pitching that is going to impact in the Ponies success this season. Karly Evans, Myers and Ita are taking to the mound, and are looking good early. Compared to last season they are getting better workouts, and getting more time outside, but they need to continue to improve. HHS lost an all-conference pitcher in two-year starter Steph Stremcha, who graduated last season. “We will have to see if they step it up and get any better as the season goes on.” Evans said. “If they can we will have a good season, if they can't we will be kind of stalemated. But we have to get better every time out.” HHS attempted the trip to the Great Falls Jamboree last season, but was snowed out. This year the Ponies attempt the trip again, and are hoping for the best. If able to make the trip to Great Falls, they will face four tough Class AA teams that will only make the Ponies better. On Saturday the Ponies begin their softball season against Great Falls High, CMR, Butte and Bozeman.