It’s been awhile since a softball team other than Polson was in first place in the conference with under a month left in the season. In fact, longtime head coach Larry Smith can’t remember when it last happened, but it’s been “quite some time.”
With less than a month before the Class A state tournament, the two-time defending champs are tied for third place in the conference while an old rival has overtaken the top spot in the standings that Polson usually occupies.
Frenchtown, the newest member of Northwestern A, is currently undefeated through seven games, including a 9-8 victory over Polson (4-2 overall, 2-2 in conference). Columbia Falls (7-2, 2-1) is in second and Libby (2-4, 2-2) is alongside Polson in third.
Since 1999, Polson and Frenchtown have been two of the most successful softball teams in the state for any class, combining for 10 championships. The Lady Pirates hold the edge when it comes to distinguishing a better dynasty, with six titles since 2001. Frenchtown has won four, two of which came in Class B (in 1999 and 2002). The Lady Broncs last won a title in 2009.
Last season the two powers collided in the state championship. Polson held on to win, but the exciting series turned out to be a preview of this season.
“I think it’s great for our conference and it’s great for us. It just makes us better,” Smith, in his 25th year, said of Frenchtown’s arrival to the conference. “We were already rivals before they were in our conference, but now it really doubles the rivalry.”
Only three teams from the conference advance to state, and if fear had begun to creep in for Polson fans then last week provided a welcome respite. Two days after pounding Hamilton 17-0 on April 19, the Lady Pirates shutout Whitefish 25-0. Three-year starter Shailana Duford, one of the best all-around players in the state, threw a no-hitter while the offense came back to life and resembled the dominant Polson teams from the past.
“We needed something to wake us up and I think they really have righted the ship,” Smith said. “They have really gone to work. They potentially could be as good a team as we’ve ever had. There’s a lot of talent there. They just have to get it all together in a timely manner.”
Kalispell’s two softball teams are playing catch-up with under a month before the Class AA state tournament comes to town. This year’s eight-team championship tournament will be held May 24-26 at Kidsports Complex.
Flathead (2-4, 3-7) snapped a 14-game skid in rivalry games against Glacier (2-9, 1-6) last week. The Bravettes, under new head coach Ashley Fusaro, split a doubleheader with the Wolfpack on April 20, winning the first game 5-2 behind a complete game from returning all-state pitcher Sidney Alberts. Glacier came back and won the nightcap 12-0.
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