Havre Daily News
Not much will be expected from the Havre High girls softball team this weekend in Billings as the Ponies make their first ever appearance in the Class A state softball tournament.
The Ponies will be competing against teams that are no strangers to state tournament play, while the Ponies in only their second season of high school softball have no established reputation or legacy.
Yet, that will do little to stop them from believing they have what it takes to shake things up a bit.
“I think that the girls are pretty confident right now,” HHS head coach Bob Evans said. “We have been on kind of a losing streak lately, but we have competed against a lot of good teams during that stretch and we did play very well at times, unfortunately we just could not get a break to go our way when we needed it to. But we know that if we go out there and play well we can compete with some of these upper-level teams and so I see no reason why we can't win a game or two, even if some people don't really expect us to.”
Havre will meet up with Butte Central in the opening round of the tournament today. The Maroons are a team that has experience in state tournament play with a number of appearances over the last decade. It was originally thought that the Ponies would play Corvallis, the No. 2 team in the Central Conference ,instead of Butte Central, who is the No. 3 team in the Central Conference.
Havre got a lucky break when Columbia Falls, the team that appeared headed for the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference, ended up fourth because the Wildcats had already played 22 games, the maximum amount a team can play in Class A softball. Columbia Falls was forced to forfeit their final regular season game against Browning, which dropped their record to 6-6 in conference play, the same as Havre, and because Havre held the tiebreaker, the Ponies received the No. 3 spot in the Western A Conference standings and that set them up against Butte Central instead of higher-seeded Corvallis.
“We got a bit of a good break because of what happened to Corvallis,” Evans said. “Now, instead of being a No. 4 seed playing a No. 2 seed, we will be a No. 3 seed playing a No. 2 seed, so that obviously will give us a better chance to come out with a win.”
If the Ponies are going to have a realistic chance to win their opening round game against the Maroons, pitcher Kelsey Evans will have to be the catalyst.
Evans has been the ace of the team's pitching staff all season long and they will need to rely on her more than ever this weekend, as she will most likely start every game the Ponies play. Evans has lost her last three starts: a 9-2 loss to Conrad May 13, and last weekend she lost to Huntley Project 3-1 as well as Billings Central 4-2.
“Yeah, she has lost the last few games she started, but she didn't necessarily pitch poorly,” Bob Evans said. “She didn't get a lot of help from the defense against Conrad and we haven't been able to give her a heck of a whole lot of run support so it's hard to win when that happens. But, in our last two games against Billings Central and Huntley Project she gave us a chance to win against two very good teams. She can only put our team in a position to win and she has done that.”
Before losing her last three starts, Evans had won her last four starts, most of them in impressive fashion and so if Evans can return to her previous form the Ponies should be in a good position.
“The thing that is so great about Kelsey is that she loves to compete and she is a winner,” Evans said. “She is the person you want to have the ball when the game is on the line and she wants the ball in that situation. She told me earlier this week that she wants the ball this weekend because this is something that she wants pretty badly. She is a proven winner and she gives our team the best chance for victory.”
But, even if Evans can star on the mound, the Ponies will still need a lot more production from a lineup that scored just five runs on 10 hits in four games last weekend in Laurel.
They will be depending on McKayla Patterson, Erika Briese, Sjantee D'Hooge and Evans herself to spark a sputtering offense.
“We have obviously struggled to score runs the last few games and if we are going to win this weekend, we have to get our bats going,” Evans said. “McKayla, Erika and Sjantee will all be counted on to step up and fill that void in our offensive output. They are veteran players and they are some of our more experienced players so we will be counting on them.”
The state A tournament consists of 12 teams with the top four teams from each conference the West, Central and the East qualifying. The first-place teams will receive byes in the first round. The tournament will be a three-day competition in Billings with the games being contested at three different venues.
Today's opening round game of the 2006 Class A state softball tournament between Havre High and Butte Central will take place in Billings at 1 p.m. If the Ponies are successful, they would then move on to face conference foe Polson in the second round on Friday afternoon.