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Blue Pony fastpitch heads to state on a roll

HHS softball team plans on being a tough out in Frenchtown


Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Janae Boles and the Havre High girls fastpitch softball team is on its way to the Class A state tournament after finishing second at last Saturday's Central A in Havre. The Blue Ponies begin play Butte Central in the first round of the state tourney, which runs Thursday through Saturday in Frenchtown. For full coverage of Thursday's action, see Friday's Havre Daily News.

The Havre High softball team is no stranger to the Class A state tournament. In fact, the Blue Ponies have made it in just about every season of their existence. Yet, this time, they will enter the tournament in as good a position as they have ever been.

Following a win over Lewistown in the Central A semifinals last Saturday, Havre earned its way to state as the No. 2 seed, following a loss in the conference title game to Belgrade. So when the Ponies take the field Thursday in Frenchtown, against Butte Central, they will do so with the hopes of bringing home a trophy by the end of the weekend.

"We like our bracket," HHS head coach Tony Vigliotti said. "Belgrade is the class of Class A right now, they are just a really good team. But after that, it's pretty wide open. No one really has a dominant pitcher, so we think we have as good a chance as anybody of bringing home a trophy."

Last season at state, the Ponies lost to Columbia Falls in the opening round, before eventually winning a game. This year, Havre will open with a team from the Southwestern A, as the Ponies will battle Butte Central, the third-place team from that league at 1 p.m. While HHS defeated Butte Central at their invitational tournament just two weeks ago, Vigliotti said this time around, it would be a whole new animal.

"They didn't have their best pitcher on the mound against us," Vigliotti said. "They had a conference game after they played us that day, so they saved her for that. But we got a look at her. She's a good pitcher, but she is not going to overpower anybody. We just need to keep doing what we have been doing and that's putting the ball into play."

Havre has been scoring runs at a good clip this season and a big part of that has been the production at the top of the lineup from leadoff hitter Janae Boles, as well as Sydney Wilting and Sam Oliver, who bat 1-2-3 in that order. After that, Kinzee Peterson and Camryn Huston, who have combined for five home runs this season, look to provide the power and drive in runs. Others such as Lauren Kato, Peyton Brown, Mia Olson, Alex Barkus and Jera Verploegen have also come up with timely hits.

"The key for us is what we have preached with the girls all year and that is putting the ball in play," Vigliotti said. "We need to put some pressure on the defense and force them to make some plays. Janae Boles has been good setting the table for us. She has been on base a lot. Sydney Wilting has just had a great year. She has a really big game Saturday. Kinzee Peterson has had a big year, she has driven in a lot of runs and has three home runs. Sam Oliver has been hot the last couple of weeks. Lauren Kato has been hitting the ball hard. Really, everyone has been contributing and we just want to keep that going."

While the offense has been a team effort, the defense has been, too. Barkus is the ace for the Ponies and she earned all four of Havre's wins in conference play, including a complete-game shutout over Lewistown last Saturday. However, she has gotten a lot of help, particularly from Oliver at short, Peterson behind the plate, Wilting in center and Brown at second.

"Alex has been our pitcher all year and we are going to go as far as she takes us," Vigliotti said. "Our defense knows that with Alex, the ball is going to be put in play and they need to come up and make some plays and they have done that. Our defense has really improved a lot since mid March. It has really taken a step forward and that has been huge for us."

Playing error-free softball will be essential for the Ponies, who will get a shot at Eastern A champion Miles City in the quarterfinals if they win. Miles City got one of the four first-round byes, the other three went to Belgrade, Polson, the champ of the Northwest A, and Hamilton, champion of the Southwest.

Frenchtown, the host team and second seed from the Southwest, will take on Lewistown in the opening game of the tournament, taking place at the same time will be Sidney, the second seed from the East and Columbia Falls, the third seed from the Northwest. There are multiple fields in Frenchtown, so when Havre plays Butte Central at 1 p.m., Libby, the two from the Northwest, will also play Hardin, the third-seeded team from the East.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

If the Ponies beat Miles City (Thursday at 5 p.m.), they would play in the semifinals of the undefeated bracket at 1 p.m. Friday. A win there would give Havre a chance to play into the state championship through the winner's bracket Saturday morning at 9. The state tournament is a true double-elimination format, so a loss wouldn't eliminate HHS from title or trophy contention, it would just need to come through the loser's bracket. That second chance, if Havre got that far, would come Saturday morning at 11. The winner of that game goes to state, the loser gets third.

The Class A state championship game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday. If a second game is necessary, it would follow at 3 p.m.


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