The Columbia Falls High School softball team has experience, depth and state tournament pedigree.
What it hasn’t had this spring is good weather.
The Wildkats, coming off a strong 2007 season when they went to the state tournament as the west’s No. 2 seed, spent most of their first weeks of practice indoors, as did other local teams. Head coach Dave Kehr said it was difficult to prepare his team for the season without getting on the field. Nevertheless, he’s confident in his team’s ability to deal with the circumstances because of their experience.
Kehr’s confidence was backed up by Columbia Falls’ 12-0 victory over Whitefish to open up the season on April 3.
Columbia Falls has only one senior, Lindsey Nelson. But the Wildkats have a strong class of juniors, many who have already played varsity for two years. Last year’s state tournament team consisted of mostly sophomores, with six starting, Kehr said.
Kehr said Nelson, a second baseman, provides leadership as the only senior. But juniors like catcher Amber James and Amanda Milliard, a pitcher and shortstop, will also be depended upon as leaders. Kehr said James can do almost anything on the diamond.
“She’s just a good all around softball player,” Kehr said.
Glacier High School’s young team got out to a rough start when it gave up 10 runs in the first inning of its opener on March 27 against Polson, Class A’s defending champion. But then the Wolfpack settled down and only gave up three more runs before losing 13-3. For a team with a lot of freshmen and sophomores, head coach Joel Bemis was impressed with the girls’ perseverance.
“I think it will kind of set the tone for the season,” Bemis said of his team’s play after the first inning. “They just buckled down and played well.”
There are 24 players on the junior varsity and varsity teams. Only four are juniors and the rest are sophomores and freshmen. Bemis said with such a young squad he doesn’t expect to start winning right out of the gates. His main team goal is for the girls to learn to compete at the competitive high school varsity level. Winning will come in time.
“I’m really pleased with where we’ve come since the beginning of the season, especially with these young kids we have,” Bemis said.
The Wolfpack scattered eight hits against Polson, a positive sign, Bemis said. Left fielder Kristen Storle and first baseman Taylor Albright, who also plays right field, both went 2-for-3 against Polson. Along with those two players, Bemis expects good things out of junior shortstop Brittney Brown and freshman Megan Connolly.
Connolly is a pleasant surprise, Bemis said.
“She’s been quite a gem,” he said.
The Flathead Bravettes are in a rebuilding year after losing a core of talented seniors last season. That core, consisting of Christina Zorn, Leslie Quay and Brianna Compton, guided Flathead to the state tournament. Heather Haegele is the only returning player from last year’s team.
But Flathead’s young team jumped out to a good start for the season with a 10-0 mercy-rule victory over Whitefish on April 1. Led by Meagan Hash’s pitching and Alana Handford’s 2-for-2 batting, the Bravettes secured the victory by the fifth inning. Hash gave up only one hit and struck out 11.
Whitefish lost seven seniors from last year’s team, but fortunately had a strong core of juniors waiting in the wings. Among this year’s seniors are Desiree Clarke and Torey Ost, who started on the mound the first game of the season against Flathead. The Bulldogs will also look to seniors Devyn Ost and Camille Williams for leadership throughout the season.
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