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May 29, 2012
Northwest Montana A Conference






Polson wins State A softball crown for third straight year


FRENCHTOWN – With three fingers held high, the Polson softball team savored a slice of state tournament paradise on Monday night.

The Pirates became the first team in 19 years and only the second in Montana history to capture three straight Class A titles, motoring to an 8-3 win over Belgrade. They joined Libby on the elite list of three-peaters, with the Loggers accomplishing the feat in 1991-93.

“It’s amazing – one of the best memories I’ll have for the rest of my life,” said Makaliah Wilson, who put the Pirates up for good and opened up the flood gates with a run in the sixth inning that broke a 2-2 tie. “Definitely as a senior and definitely with going for a three-peat, there was a lot of pressure on us. But we pulled through.”

Earning a state title on Frenchtown’s field made Monday a tad bit surreal for the Pirates. Junior pitcher Shalaina Duford woke up Monday morning figuring her team was headed back to Anaconda after playing its way into the title round on Saturday and then coming home when inclement weather forced what proved to be a 48-hour delay.

“It was absolute torture,” Duford said of the idle time prior to Monday’s finale. “Laying in bed trying to fall asleep and just envisioning what the game could be like, how it could go. ... But it was worth it. I’m up at 7 in the morning today ready to go to Anaconda and then it’s nope, Frenchtown.”

Duford and her Pirates (21-5) struggled out of the chute, allowing two runs in the top of the first inning. They answered right away in the bottom of the first, with Heidi Rausch hammering a two-run home run over the left field fence.

The score stayed that way until the bottom of the sixth when Belgrade collapsed under Polson’s base-running pressure. Wilson drew a leadoff walk and moved up on a passed ball. One out later, leadoff hitter Ashley Johnson beat out a slap single and Belgrade’s first baseman made an unwise decision to try to peg Wilson as she rounded third.

The ball sailed past the third baseman and Wilson scooted home to make it 3-2.

“I just went a few steps off and they just had a bad throw,” explained Wilson. “I was a little surprised they threw it over but I was ready to go.”

Riley Kenney followed with a single and moved up to give Polson runners on second and third. Yet for all its troubles, Belgrade still appeared as if it might make it out of the inning with minimal damage after recording a second out.

Then the Panthers fell apart at the seams. Johnson scored on a passed ball. Rausch drew an intentional walk and was one of two Pirates to come home on a Jessica Bagnell double. Bagnell later scored when Belgrade’s shortstop made an errant throw to third.

“We just always realize we need to power through at the end and when it gets close everybody just digs deep and finds it in their heart to play their best,” Duford said.

When the dust cleared, the Pirates had piled up six runs on five hits and taken advantage of three Panthers errors. Belgrade answered with a run in the top of the seventh. But Polson was not to be denied a seventh state championship under 25-year coach Larry Smith.

“What you saw in that particular (sixth) inning is what we do – when we get baserunners on I want aggressive baserunning,” Smith said. “I want (the opponent) throwing the ball. When they did they made mistakes and paid for it.”

What made this year’s state title extra special for Smith is the way his team overcame adversity. The Pirates started off 2-3 in Northwestern A conference play and there was some question whether they would even make the state tournament.

“That’s what makes you a champion and I thought that’s what propelled us in this tournament,” said Smith, whose team did not lose a game at state. “Our whole last month we couldn’t afford to lose another game. That was the reason when we got to state, we were so powerful and strong. We had already been tested, every game.”

Four Pirates finished with a pair of hits, including Rausch, Bagnell, Riley Kenney and Jaylin Kenney. Kristina West had two hits for Belgrade.

While the list of Polson heroes is lengthy, there is no question Duford is the straw that stirs the drink. She has pitched her team to three straight state crowns and there’s no reason to believe that streak will halt in 2013.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my team,” Duford said. “We started off with a rough season and everybody made it a point to work their butt off in practice every day. The three-peat was what we wanted and we achieved it.”

Belgrade 200 000 1 – 3 6 5

Polson 200 006 x – 8 11 2

Justine Taylor and Annie Prickett. Shaliana Duford and Jaylin Kenney. W – Duford. L – Taylor.

BELGRADE – Justine Taylor 1-3, Kristina West 2-4, Morgan Wandler 1-4, Taylor Johnson 1-1, Taylor Hill 1-4, Prickett 0-3, Allison Alstrom 0-3, Joey Severson 0-3, Autumn Rollins 0-2.

POLSON – Ashley Johnson 1-4, Riley Kenney 2-4, Duford 1-4, Heidi Rausch 2-4, Jessica Bagnell 2-4, J. Kenney 2-4, Tina Marquardt 1-4, Makaliah Wilson 0-4, Sarah Rausch 0-2, Jaiden Toth 0-1.

2B – Bagnell. HR – Rausch. RBIs – Rausch 2, Bagnell 2, Marquardt.


Polson 8, Belgrade 3

After a venue change shifted the game from Anaconda at 2pm to Frenchtown at 4pm on Memorial Day, the two-time defending Polson Lady Pirates and the challenger Belgrade Lady Panthers were finally able to square off against one another for the Class A state softball championship game(s).

Polson’s Heidi Rausch was on base all four at-bats (HR, HBP, 1B, W), inaugurated a spectacular relay 8-5-2 throw to nail the Belgrade runner trying to score in the early half of the contest and recorded several putouts. Belgrade‘s Kristina West generated two hits..

TOP OF 1ST - Lady Panthers opened the title match with a bang when leadoff hitter Justine Taylor singled, advancing to second when follow-up hitter Kristina West stroked another single with nobody out to place two runners on board. Number three batter Morgan Wandler put the ball into play, reaching on a fielders choice when Polson elected to negate the lead runner Taylor for the first out. A subsequent walk to cleanup hitter Taylor Johnson would load the bases. Middle of the order hitter Taylor Hill hit a soft liner to shallow left which caromed out of the glove of the fielder as they anticipated the opportunity to either make a double play or hold the runner at third. A pair of runs would score to stake Belgrade with an opening 2-0 lead.

BOTTOM OF 1ST - In the Polson half of the inning, the Lady Pirates would respond quickly. Number two batter Riley Kenney singled safely. Cleanup hitter Heidi Rausch would then remind the Belgrade pitcher why it merits pitching her with extra care when she stroked a home run into left center which bounced on top of the net of the batting cages to tie the game at 2 apiece. Rausch’s home run was her 11th of the season and 4th this year off Belgrade pitching that seems Taylor-ed to her liking (once in the 4-3 loss at the Frenchtown Invite, twice in the 8-4 win at the Butte Invite).

TOP OF 2ND - Justine Taylor would draw a walk with two out, then stole second, but was left stranded.

BOTTOM OF 2ND - bottom of the order batter Sarah Rausch singled with one out, was sacrificed to second by Johnson, but would get no further as Belgrade got out of the inning.

TOP OF 3RD - Lady Panther cleanup hitter Taylor Johnson hit a strong liner just left of center which would have been a home run with another foot of elevation. Even so, the hit would ordinarily have contributed extra bases to the batter’s efforts, but a quick retrieval and strong throw by Polson centerfielder Heidi Rausch held to hit to a mere single. Belgrade middle-of-the-order batter then hit a solid double to centerfield, which Rausch was again able to quickly retrieve, relaying the throw to third base infielder Tina Marquardt as Johnson was rounding third heading for home. Marquardt fired a shot to Polson catcher Jaylin Kenney who tagged out the runner trying to score to negate the potential go-ahead score for the second out. Polson would close out the inning with no damage incurred, much to the chagrine of the Lady Panther faithful.

BOTTOM OF 3RD - With one out, cleanup batter Heidi Rausch did not get to hit a pitch from Taylor this time, but was instead hit-by-the-pitch. She would be sacrificed over to second on a sacrifice hit by middle-of-the-order batter Jessica Bagnell, but Belgrade would incur no damage by getting out of the inning.

TOP OF 4TH - Lady Panthers would go quietly one-two-three 4-3, 6-3, 1-3.

BOTTOM OF 4TH - Polson number eight batter Makaliah Wilson would reach first safely on an overexhuberant throw by the Lady Panther infielder, but would get no further as Belgrade would slam the cage on any further opportunities.

TOP OF 5TH - With two out, Belgrade number three batter Morgan Wandler would stroke a strong liner to centerfield that hit the fenceline just about a foot shy of clearing the fence, was quickly fielded to hold her efforts to a mere single. A subsequent walk to cleanup batter Taylor Johnson would advance the runner and place two on base, but Polson would extract themselves from the inning without any damage with a groundout to the shortstop for the third out.

BOTTOM OF 5TH - With one out, Polson number three batter Shay Duford would sharply send a liner into the centerfield fence, but it was quickly retrieved by the Lady Panther outfield to hold her to a mere single. Cleanup batter Rausch likewise singled. After a muted popout to the catcher for another out, number six batter Jaylin Kenney singled to load the bases. But the Lady Panthers were able to extract themselves from the predicament with the third out on a popup to the pitcher.

TOP OF 6TH - The Lady Panthers would go quietly one-two-three 1-3, 5-3, 5-3.

BOTTOM OF 6TH - The Polson Lady Pirate offensive volcano that had been rumbling a bit and spewing smoke the preceeding inning finally erupted to mount some scores. Number eight batter Makaliah Wilson would draw a walk, advancing to second on a passed ball. After Belgrade secured the first out of the inning on a short popup to the catcher, leadoff batter Ashley Johnson busted a move down the first base line on a slap bunt and just beat out the throw. Wilson took that opportunity to advance from second to third, which the Belgrade first baseman attempted to counter when the out at first did not succeed. Third base had difficulty reeling in the throw, which opened a narrow window of opportunity for Wilson to score to break the tie in favor of the Lady Pirates 3-2 while Johnson advanced to second. Number two batter Riley Kenney singled to advance Johnson over to third. Kenney would steal second to place both runners in scoring position. After a flyout, cleanup batter Heidi Rausch was deliberately walked to load the bases. Middle-of-the-order batter Jessica Bagnell then stroked a dual RBI double to right-center to plate both Johnson and Kenney to extend the lead to 5-2. Number six hitter Jaylin Kenney would follow with another single, advancing Bagnell to third. Bagnell would later score on an infield error. Jaylin Kenney would advance to third on a passed ball. Number seven batter Tina Marquardt would hit a bloop RBI single to plate Kenney to extend the lead to 8-2 before Belgrade could extinguish the fire and get out of the inning.

TOP OF 7TH - The quality of Belgrade’s program and the tenacity of their team really showed at the onset of the top of their seventh inning. They were intent about not going quietly and set out to score as many runs as they could to extend the game. Bottom-of -the order batter Autumn Rollins extended her at bat to a full count and then turned it into a walk. Leadoff hitter Justine Taylor reached on an infield fielding bobble while Taylor advanced to second. Number two batter Kristina West was called safe at first on a very close play while the other runners advanced to load the bases. After a flyout to the infield, cleanup hitter Taylor Johnson hit a sacrifice fly to short right field to score Rollins, trimming the lead to 8-3 while Polson right fielder Jaiden Toth made a difficult circus-like catch for the second out of the inning. Belgrade would ground out to the infield for the last out to end the game.

Belgrade 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 - 3 6 3

Polson 2 0 0 0 0 6 x - 8 13 2

Justine Taylor and Annie Prickett. Shalaina Duford (20-5) and Jaylin Kenney. WP - Duford (0 Strikeouts, 6 Hits, 4 Walks, 11 groundouts, 8 flyouts), LP - Taylor (0 Strikeouts, 13 Hits, 2 Walks, 8 groundouts, 9 flyouts).

BELGRADE - Taylor1-3, Kristina West 2-4, Morgan Wandler 1-4, Taylor Johnson 1-1 [2W, Sac], Taylor Hill 1-4, Prickett 0-3, Allison Alstrom 0-3, Joey Severson 0-3, Autumn Rollins 0-2.

POLSON - Ashley Johnson 1-3, Riley Kenney 2-4, Duford 1-4, Heidi Rausch 2-2, Jessica Bagnell 2-3, Jaylin Kenney 3-4, Tina Marquardt 1-4, Makaliah Wilson 0-3 [W, E5], Sarah Rausch 1-2, Jaiden Toth 0-1.

HR - H. Rausch. 2B - Hill, Bagnell. RBIs - T. Johnson, H. Rausch 2, Bagnell 2, Marquardt. Sacs - T. Johnson, Ashley Johnson, Bagnell. SB - Taylor, R. Kenney, H. Rausch.

Unofficial game rendition by John Heglie. Some details may vary from official summary. For example, S. Rausch was scored as a hit in the bottom of the 2nd on account of the difficulty level and velocity of the contact even though the Belgrade ss was able to get a glove on it and knock it down. This may change the hit count for Polson by a digit. A couple of Belgrade errors could have been charged either upon the thrower or the fielder. This scorer decided one way, but it could have been viewed differently by another.

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