Havre Daily News sports editor
In its last competition before the Class A state softball tournament, the Havre High softball team had its share of struggles at the Laurel Invitational on Friday and Saturday.
The Ponies went 0-4 on the weekend, which extended their current losing streak to six games.
The Ponies clinched a berth in the state tournament on May 12 with a win over Browning, but ever since then it has been anything but smooth sailing for the Ponies. They lost twice at home last weekend to Cut Bank and Conrad in the Havre Invitational. And things didn't get much better for Havre in Laurel, which was its final tuneup for the state tournament, which gets under way later this week.
The Ponies opened the Laurel tournament against Glendive and Huntley Project on Friday. Despite a close call with Huntley Project, the Ponies came away empty-handed, losing by scores 10-1 to Glendive and 3-1 Huntley Project.
In the game against Glendive, the Red Devils rocked the Ponies and pitcher Steph Stremcha for 10 runs on 13 hits. While Stremcha did give up some big hits on occasion, she did not receive much help from the rest of her team. The HHS defense committed four critical errors and the offense managed just one run on two hits.
“Steph actually pitched pretty well, I thought,” HHS head coach Bob Evans said. “She didn't receive the kind of support you need to win a ball game or even stay in a ball game from our defense or at the plate.”
Senior Kelsey Evans took the mound against Huntley Project, and the Pony offense failed to generate any kind of offense for her as well. Evans pitched well in the contest, holding Huntley Project to just three runs on six hits in seven innings of solid work.
But it wasn't enough to add another notch in her win column, as the Ponies squandered a late game opportunity to possibly tie the game and force extra innings.
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Erika Briese stepped up to bat with runners on second and third and two outs. The tying run was merely a hit away from scoring as Briese ripped a line drive toward the middle of field. But what appeared to be a two-run game-tying single ending up being the final out of the contest as a jumping snag by the Red Devils second baseman ended Havre's hopes for a comeback.
On Saturday, the Ponies met up with what many consider the best team in Class A in the Laurel Locomotives.
Once again the Ponies got roughed up a little bit. Laurel racked up eight runs off 11 hits, while holding the Ponies to a mere two runs on two hits. Stremcha was charged with the loss as the starting pitcher.
In the final game of the tournament, the Ponies met up against Billings Central, another powerhouse in Class A softball. However, unlike their matchup against Laurel, the Ponies were able to hold their own against Billings Central behind the pitching of Evans and some solid defense. The HHS offense continued to struggle mightily, and in the end, the lack of run production cost the Ponies.
Entering the seventh inning, the game was tied at 2-2. Billings Central had two runners on base with two outs in the top half on the inning. Havre then made a costly error on a play that would have gotten the Ponies out of the inning. Instead, it allowed both runs to score, giving the Rams a 4-2 lead heading into the last half of the inning. The stagnant HHS offense failed to answer Billings Central's late rally and the Ponies fell 4-2, giving them their six straight loss and leaving them outscored 28-5 over the course of the weekend. In all, the Havre High offense managed just 10 hits over the course of the two-day tournament.
“I don't think that we played very well at times,” Bob Evans said. “But we did play well at times, too. Billings Central is one of the best teams in the state and we had a chance to win that game in the last inning, so it shows we can play with those teams. We just can't make silly mental mistakes, because those are hard to overcome against good teams.
“I don't think the team has lost any confidence or anything like that,” he added. “We just need to break out of this slump that we are in. We are really struggling to hit and one game we struck out 13 times. You aren't going to win any games striking out that much. So we have got to find a way to score some runs, otherwise we will be in trouble.”
The Ponies will now prepare to head to the Class A state softball tournament. The 2006 state tournament gets under way Thursday afternoon and will run through Saturday afternoon in Billings.