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2014 Preseason Softball Preview: SW 'A'

March 30, 2014
Northwest Montana A Conference


2014 Preseason Softball Preview: SW 'A'

Butte Central softball hoping for return to state; Maroons set to field mix of new, familiar faces this season

Butte Central softball hoping for return to state

A mixture of young and experienced athletes has represented Butte Central’s girls’ sports teams during the fall and winter, one year after the Maroons counted on a senior-laden group to lead the way.

With spring in the air and the softball season officially under way – with losses to Polson and Libby on Saturday – the Maroons’ latest sports season is the final test for a group of girls who spent the volleyball and basketball campaigns figuring each other out.

That should play out well for the Maroons and second-year head coach, Kelci Thatcher, who took the Central squad to the Class A state finals last May and saw her team go 3-2 in Belgrade before being eliminated with a 12-11 overall record.

“They have excellent flow with each other and really jell better than any team I’ve been around after a first week of practice,” Thatcher said. “They just have it. That’s going to play to our favor down the line because they are encouraging one another, they are 20 minutes early to practice and stay late to take extra reps. They are very eager, very competitive, and exceptionally driven.”

Of course having one of the best pitchers in the state — sophomore Teresa Piazzola — can’t hurt Central’s chances in the tough Southwestern A division.

“Teresa has had a whole season to pitch where last year she didn’t get to start until right before the season started because of injury,” Thatcher said. “You take a kid who did excellent and made All-State with almost no conditioning and give her

a whole year now of conditioning combined with her not wanting to lose…”

Piazzola will have a new-look defense behind her as well as a new battery-mate in sophomore catcher Kate Ossello.

“It’s obviously different, but I trust everyone that’s behind me, since it’s not the first time we have played together,” Piazzola said. “We played in the summer and in other sports.”

Piazzola will get to unveil a new weapon, her drop ball, to go to as she battles to shut down opposing hitters.

Coming off of a second-place finish in Southwestern A, in which their two losses were one-run decisions against Hamilton, the Maroons ended the season with a strong push at state. That run was also stopped by Hamilton. Nonetheless, the stage was set for Thatcher’s program to keep pushing forward.

“Last year was an excellent season and starting point for us since we set the bar high,” Thatcher said. “For the newcomers coming in, they are not in shock because Central does have a reputation in softball where we have a goal in mind where we want to get and are hungry to get there. We are building in every practice in trying to get our game perfect, inside and out.”

Thatcher believes the team’s offense, which was up and down last year, could be better at manufacturing runs with more of a small-ball attack with hitters like Shelby Paffhausen, Mikayla Boggs, Courtney Thomas, Shawnee Hjelt, and Aidan Dennehy.

“Offensively we look pretty good and we have improved a ton from last year,” Paffhausen said. “We have been working on bunting too and that’s going to be effective too.”

Anaconda softball has high hopes for 2014; Copperheads return much of last season’s state tournament club

The Anaconda High softball team will have an ample supply of talent returning from the team that made it to the State Class A finals last spring.

The Copperheads, who went 9-13-1, had a taste of success at the state tournament last season before ending its season with a loss to host Belgrade. That late-season run has given the team hope as it starts in 2014 campaign.

Despite losing top pitcher Brooke Chapman to graduation, the Copperheads are feeling like they could be in the running once again for one of the three state spots available to Southwestern A teams.

It doesn’t hurt that the Copperheads will host the first divisional tournament ever held for Southwestern A teams in May.

“Having divisionals here at home will be a big advantage to play on our own home field,” Copperheads coach Dotsie Shafer said. “That should be a real plus for us this year.”

As much of a plus as that is, the Copperheads need to worry more about finding their rhythm early and sustaining it throughout the season.

“Things are looking good and I am excited about the team we have back,” third baseman Sarah Schaefer said. “We have five seniors and we have some strong arms, and our outfield is also looking good. We have to back up our pitchers more and defend better by moving to the ball well, make good plays, good throws, and good catches.”

The defense will need to be tough especially as the team adjusts to the loss of Chapman with three new but talented arms. Catcher Courtney Moodry is confident the team is ready for that challenge.

“We are going to be fine once we get going, which may take a game or two like it always does,” she said. “Brooke was always nice to have of course, but I don’t think it will be a bad thing to have three pitchers that can all do different things.”

The three pitchers who will be the center of attention from the middle of the infield are Junior Kristy Hayden, sophomore Andrea Mavrinac, and freshman Michaela Cortright.

Shafer is fortunate to have players like Schaefer, Moodry, and other seniors Delanie Chapman, Julia Peterson, and Chloe Worl in the fold as the season heats up. Leadership among those players will be key for the Copperheads, who had a bit of a rough start on Saturday, losing games to Polson and Libby.

“We should be all right,” Shafer said. “Our sticks are coming around pretty good. Our non-conference games will help us get the bugs worked out. Our pitching is young, but strong.”

Fundraising helps Dillon softball join Southwest A

Beavers’ first varsity team opens season at home on Tuesday

With the last two decades of Dillon high school athletics reaching incredible heights on all playing surfaces, the Beavers have decided to enter the softball fray in 2014.

Dillon is set to have its first varsity squad take the diamond this season, with the Beavers being the newest team to represent Beaverhead County. Its goal is to carry its own level of success required of most athletic teams from the school.

This team, however, has already met with its share of challenges. In order to exist, the softball program has to be self-funded indefinitely, with just the transportation costs being taken care of. So Schurg and a group of supporters went out and got it done.

The Beavers will play their inaugural varsity softball game at 3 p.m., Tuesday in Dillon. Their opponent will be Stevensville.

After tons of fund raising and two junior varsity seasons that saw the Beavers go winless in 2012 and win five games in 2013 the dream is now a reality.

“My family is new to Dillon having moved here in 2010,” Schurg said. “Ten years ago there was a push to bring it to the high school and it got shot down. When we moved here we connected with some of those same parents to make a new push and we joined in.

“We got the school board to accept it as long as we raised the funds for the program. We had to raise $25,000 to start the program and if we could continue to fund the program we could have a team. We paid almost 100 percent to fund the program, except the school pays for transportation.”

The program will have to remain that way, Schurg added, since, “there hasn’t been talk of the school taking over the funding at this point. If we have to continue to raise funds, that will be fine.”

Various fund-raising events over the past three years — car washes, running concession stands, etc. — have helped paved the way. On April 12, the program hopes to step it up with a 100-inning marathon fund-raiser where the team will play others from the community one inning at a time. Pepsi and Pizza Hut have agreed to donate food and drinks for the event, but the Beavers are still in search of a full, in-season sponsor.

Schurg said that part of the long process of getting a softball team at Dillon came from getting past the skepticism that came from school officials. Many doubted that there would be enough girls to participate in the program. Surveys showed, however, that the sport was a popular draw for many girls who wanted to participate in spring sports.

So began the process with the school’s first junior varsity team.

“We started from scratch,” Schurg said. “We had girls that didn’t know how many balls and strikes you had.”

The players endured the rise from a new program to now being able to play at the varsity level.

“It was really crazy to just get back in the swing of things,” senior Addie Chipman-Hanson said. “It was hard to get down and learn the basics but it was definitely fun to start the program. It’s awesome to be a varsity program and to have gained some respect to be one. It’s a privilege in itself and pretty exciting. We had to raise all of our own money so it’s awesome to earn it in a way.”

Schurg believes the squad has had enough experience to prepare for this next level.

“Now that we are jumping into the varsity schedule we are excited but also nervous for the jump to the next level of competition,” she said. “We have seen some varsity pitching in previous years so at least the girls should be ready for that.”

The hopes are the 18 varsity and junior varsity players have had enough time to evolve and be ready from the beginning.

“You can’t step onto the softball field as a 16 year old and know how to (throw) underhand fast pitch which is one of the hardest skills to learn in athletics,” Schurg said. “We have been playing catch up, where other teams have had been playing for years and have had feeder programs. We have seen some excitement among the younger girls. We do have athletes, they just don’t have experience.”

So for players like seniors Rachael Bowe and Chipman-Hanson and juniors Audrey Schurg, Brandi Lovaas, Kimee Hritsco-Murray, Halie Montgomery, Ellie Wilkinson and Kenzie Stanchfield who have toiled almost from the beginning, the coaches want to see the hard work pay off in their games.

“I have some high expectations for the season,” Schurg said. “My goal is to make it to state and I think we have the talent to do that. The girls have been working hard and have been coming together. We could be in the top three of our conference.”

For the players, it’s not just about just winning for themselves, but also in rewarding those who have backed them.

“It’s a good thing that we have a program and I am grateful for it and those who have supported us,” Lovaas said. “I just hope we do well this year. We need it. It’s more about those who put faith in us so we have to give back. Once we all work together, we can be a good team.”

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