COLUMBIA FALLS — The highly anticipated softball match up between Polson and Columbia Falls— who respectively finished second and third at last year’s state tournament—lived up to expectations as the Lady Pirates broke through in the top of the sixth inning to claim a 3-0 Northwestern A road victory on Tuesday evening.
Columbia Falls junior pitcher Ashley Trueblood held the Lady Pirates hitless and only allowed four baserunners until Jaiden Toth’s blooper to center field started a sixth inning rally.
Polson senior pitcher Jessica Bagnell hit a hard grounder in the hole and Wildkats shortstop Winter Kempapainen made a diving stop to keep the ball in the infield, but she could not retire Bagnell or Toth, who advanced to second.
Junior Kaelen Wall was next up for the Pirates and hit a line drive to right field which was quickly relayed by the Wildkats, forcing Polson head coach Larry Smith to hold Toth at third.
With the bases loaded, sophomore Hannah Potter drove in Toth and Bagnell with a base hit to center field.
Wall advanced to third on the play and Polson had runners on the corners with no outs.
After getting the signs from Coach Smith, senior Kyrie Bitterman executed a sacrifice bunt which rolled to a stop in front of Wildkats catcher Courtney Murray.
Wall, with a large secondary lead off third, bolted for home once Murray fired to first. The double play attempt to the plate was not in time and Wall scored making it 3-0 in favor of Polson.
That’s all Trueblood allowed however, getting Skyla Krantz to pop out to Wildkats third baseman Tiffany Hummer and striking out Lydia Dupuis.
“Outstanding,” Trueblood said of her team’s performance. “Up until the sixth inning we made every play and even in the sixth inning I’m not sure they were playable balls. The defense definitely came through.”
“I thought we played well on the defensive end, but we started out batting slow,” Columbia Falls head coach Dave Kehr said. “We didn’t come out well at the plate. (Polson) made some great plays in the outfield and made it tough to score. We just need to keep working offensively, but I thought overall the girls played pretty well.”
Columbia Falls had plenty of opportunities to score prior to the sixth, but couldn’t capitalize.
The third inning saw a wild turn of events after a line drive up the middle from Hummer.
Teammate Carlee Brown bunted and an errant throw to first allowed her to reach safely as Hummer took off for third.
The Pirates throw from right field sailed over third base and Hummer turned the corner looking to score.
She slid into home plate, feet first, but the throw from behind third base hit Polson catcher Jaylin Kenney in the chest and she tagged Hammer before she could touch the plate, ending the inning.
The Wildkats had an even better opportunity in the fourth.
Columbia Falls first baseman Amanda Morrison hit a rocket up the middle and advanced to second when Murray, the next batter, reached first on an error. Kaitlyn Hoerner’s bunt was placed perfectly leading to an infield single that loaded the bases for the Wildkats with nobody out.
Bagnell struck out her eighth batter of the night as Samantha Collins went down swinging for the first out of the inning.
Hummer, Columbia Falls’ lead off hitter, worked a full count on Bagnell before hitting a sinking line drive to left field.
Morrision sprinted home, but was doubled up at third when Polson left fielder Kyrie Bitterman came charging in and made a diving catch on Hummer’s hit—stunning the crowd and the Wildkats.
“Mentally, Jessica can let things go pretty easily. She stays at ease,” Coach Smith said of Bagnell pitching out of the jam. “She knows she has fantastic defense behind her. We’ve got a super outfield. Those three gals can fly around and close a gap pretty quickly and we saw that today.”
Bagnell, who struck out nine batters in her complete game shut out, said she felt good in the circle and was in control of her pitchers, but she was grateful for the defensive effort the Lady Pirates displayed, which included another diving grab by right fielder Lydia Dupuis.
“Our outfield saved us today,” Bagnell said. “We played better defensively and we’re getting better as a whole.”
The Wildkats will look to get back on track against Whitefish on Thursday with the first pitch scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
Polson will compete at the Belgrade Invitational this weekend.
Polson 000 003 0 — 3 5 3
Columbia Falls 000 000 0 — 0 6 1
Jessica Bagnell and Jaylin Kenney. Ashley Trueblood and Courtney Murray. W — Bagnell. L — Trueblood
POLSON — Jaylin Kenney 1-3, Jaiden Toth 1-4, Jessica Bagnell 1-4, Kaelen Wall 1-4, Hannah Potter 1-3, Kyrie Bitterman 0-1, Skyla Krantz 0-3, Sarah Rausch 0-1, Lydia Dupuis 0-1.
COLUMBIA FALLS — Tiffany Hummer 1-3, Carlee Brown 2-3, Ashley Trueblood 0-2, Winter Kemppainen 0-3, Madi Fetters 1-3, Amanda Morrison 1-3, Courtney Murray 0-3, Kaitlyn Hoerner 1-2, Samantha Collins 0-2, Katie Price 0-1, Alysha Cantu 0-1
RBIs — Potter 2, Bitterman.