Last week’s defeat wasn’t the result the Glacier softball team wanted, but it could have been the one the Wolfpack needed.
The girls dropped the final game of the regular season last week, losing the second part of the crosstown doubleheader to rival Flathead at the Kidsports Complex in Kalispell. Kylee Beccari, pitching all 14 innings on the day in an impressive show of endurance, limited the Wolfpack to two hits and one run, while Kaylee Henderson blasted her fifth homer of the season to give the Bravettes the 2-1 win. Glacier edged Flathead 3-2 in the opener after Ali Williams fanned 11 batters and Kayleena Ikeda scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh off an error.
For Flathead, battling back to win its fifth game of the season provided a shot in the arm for the girls entering this week’s playoffs.
“Both games were fantastic. Not how we wanted to end our first one, but really happy with the second one,” Bravettes head coach Ashley Fusaro said. “We’re just hitting our peak right now. Perfect timing. We’re ready for next week.”
The Bravettes (5-13 overall, 2-10 in conference) will travel to Helena to take on Capital (15-5, 9-3) on Thursday for a best-of-three Western AA playoff series. The winner advances to the Class AA state tournament, May 29-30, in Great Falls. Flathead is seeking its first trip to state since the spring of 2007.
“The girls have really come together as a team,” Fusaro said.
For Glacier — a team that began the season with hopes of building on last year’s third-place finish at the state tournament — the crosstown doubleheader provided a bitter reminder that nothing comes easy at this point of the season.
“Whether they want to admit it or not, games like this make us better down the stretch, being able to learn from these experiences,” Glacier head coach Andy Fors said. “This day here is going to ultimately be one of our strengths as we finish out the season.”
The Wolfpack (10-8-1, 7-5) will host a best-of-three playoff against Helena (6-13-1, 5-6-1) on Thursday starting at 1 p.m. at Kidsports Complex. Glacier is looking to advance to state for the second consecutive year. Last year’s squad went 14-5 and won the Western AA crown, but fell just shy of playing for a championship after losing to Great Falls 8-6 in the semifinal round. The girls ended up third, the best finish in program history.
A strong core of leaders returned to the lineup, including senior catcher Hannah Atlee, senior outfielder Taylor Riggles and senior Anna Jenks. There’s also the team’s ace, Williams, who as a sophomore has already developed into one of the best pitchers in the state.
“We feel good,” Fors said, adding, “We just need to be able to figure out how to hit the ball before (the playoff).”
Glacier’s low run total against Flathead was an unusual performance for one of Western AA’s top hitting teams.
But defensively, the team shined as it has all season, reflecting the well-rounded quality of this year’s squad.
“We’ll hang our hats on our defense today. I was very pleased with Ali Williams’ pitching and Hannah Atlee’s catching. Our battery was very strong today and did a great job. Defensively we backed them up when they put the ball in the field,” Fors said. “That’s right where we need to be defensively at the end of the season. We just left the bats in the freezer.”
Life in the Western AA conference was challenging this season. The top three teams traded wins amongst each other, led by Missoula Hellgate, which won the conference title. Missoula Big Sky narrowly missed out, along with Helena Capital. Glacier beat Helena both times this season and locked up fourth place in the standings.
“Our goal is to get to the state tournament and once we get there, not to be satisfied with the trip and get some wins while we’re there,” Fors said.
On the east side, Great Falls C.M. Russell won the conference crown. Defending state champ Great Falls finished in third place, barely behind Billings West.
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