Columbia Falls Softball Back-to-Back Champs

The Wildkats took down previously undefeated Billings Central twice to repeat as state champions

By John Letasky for 406mtsports.com
Columbia Falls won the Class A state softball tournament May 25, 2024 in Billings by defeating Billings Central twice. John Letasky | 406mtsports

BILLINGS — What might have seemed unlikely to some onlookers didn’t enter into the equation for the Columbia Falls Wildkats.

After falling to Billings Central in the undefeated semifinal 7-2 earlier in the day, the Wildkats came back to win three straight games and claim the State A softball championship for the second straight season late Saturday night at Stewart Park.

Columbia Falls (27-4) first beat Polson 10-8, before topping Central 14-3 in five innings in the first championship game and claiming a 9-6 win in the winner-take-all if-necessary tilt.

“Our mindset was we could come back and beat them,” said longtime coach Dave Kehr, who said he thought it was his 27th year with the team. “They are a confident group of girls and did a great job all-around, everybody.”

Pitcher Maddie Moultray once again had a fine outing, throwing the complete seven innings, and allowing only four hits, while striking out seven and walking five. Three of the Rams’ six runs were earned.

The Rams hadn’t lost all season until the championship round, and finished with a record of 25-2.

“We came in confident and knew we could beat them,” said Moultray. “We continued to persevere and had each other’s backs. It was amazing.”

The Wildkats recorded the last out at 11:16 p.m. on the late day. Kehr wasn’t sure what the team would do to mark the occasion with the hour of the day, but he was sure happy to win the school’s second state championship in softball.

The tourney was condensed into two days as rain wiped out play on Thursday. On Saturday, there was a brief weather delay prior to the third-place game.

“It’s 11:30 for goodness sakes,” he said. “I’m just glad we’re not going home and spending the night in Billings.”

Moultray hit a three-run homer to right field for an 8-3 lead in the sixth inning. Moultray said that as she was rounding the bases and heading home she realized the Wildkats would repeat. Last year Columbia Falls also toppled Central for the title.

“I couldn’t believe it. I don’t hit to right field,” she said. “And going home, I was like we got it.”

Moultray said the Wildkats, who had eight hits to four for Central in the final game, are a tight-knit group and that was key in repeating.

“We are more of a family than any team here,” she said. “That got us here.”

Haden Peters was 4 for 5, including a homer, with two runs and three RBIs for the Wildkats.

Central did lead 3-0 after two innings, but it didn’t take long for Columbia Falls to start chipping away at the lead and eventually overcome it.

The Wildkats scored one run in the third and fourth innings, two in the fifth, four in the sixth and one in the seventh. Central scored three more times in the sixth.

“The girls just hit the ball and bunted when we needed,” said Kehr. “They did everything we needed. Maddie pitched well.

“It was a good team effort. We couldn’t do anything without the whole team.”

Kehr said it was difficult to win a second straight state title.

“Back-to-back is pretty good,” he said. “It was hard. It was a harder year than last year.”

Moultray said Columbia Falls had a goal entering this season to once again be posing for pictures with the first-place trophy when the year ended.

“Going into the season we thought we could,” she said. “I never doubted it. We persevered and pushed.”

For the Rams, pitcher Gianna Haney went the distance and was 2 for 3 with two RBIs.

Rams coach Coleman Rockwell credited the Wildkats.

“Columbia Falls is phenomenal. That’s all there is to it,” he said. “We ran into a juggernaut.”

Despite not finishing how they wanted to, Rockwell said the Rams could be proud of their season and accomplishments both on and off the field.

“The culture we’ve created,” he said. “The Fellowship of Christian Athletes and kids talking of their spirituality. At the end of the day, it’s bigger than softball.”

The Rams were in search of their first state title since repeating in 1994 and 1995.

In the first championship game, Columbia Falls scored six runs in the second to take a 6-1 lead and another seven runs in the fifth.

Bella Mann, Onnika Lawrence and Peters all homered for Columbia Falls with Mann hitting a grand slam in the fifth.

Moultray pitched the first four innings for the Wildkats in the first championship game, striking out six and allowing three hits and three runs (two earned).