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Shirttail stitches and the seams of a sensational senior softball squad season

August 15, 2014
Northwest Montana A Conference



 

Shirttail stitches and the seams of a sensational senior softball squad season

by John Heglie

 

Area sports enthusiasts have perhaps been following coverage of an area all-star softball squad that goes by the name of Zootown.  The team is comprised of softball players between the ages of 14-16 derived from several schools around the Missoula area that include AA Hellgate, AA Big Sky, AA Sentinel, B-C Loyola along with Class A repeat state champion Frenchtown as well as Class B-C 3peat state champion Florence.  The moniker of Zootown is likely derived a variation of Missoula - Mizzou or Zoula morphs into Zoo or something along those lines, hence Zootown.  The influx of students within a university town as well as behaviors some of them exhibit likely lends to the Zoo aspect as well, although comparisons with a menagerie of animals is likely of a tamer variety than would be the case around a larger metropolitan setting. 

 

 This Zootown senior little league softball team won the West Regional, an accomplishment of some significance that reflects just how far the game of softball has progressed around the state of Montana to the extent that it is competing on par with programs elsewhere around the country.  In addition to others, Zootown beat a pair of premiere programs from Arizona and Southern California, playing a variety of competitive softball that bodes well for a geographic region that will inaugurate its first Division 1 softball program at the University of Montana commencing this fall.  By winning the West Regional, Zootown punched their ticket to play at the Senior Little League Softball World Series over in Delaware from August 3rd through 9th.  Its one thing to be invited to attend such a prestigious event and then get beat up thereafter.  It is another matter when a squad of relatively local-ish softball girls are swinging the sticks as well as pitching so proficiently that they place atop the standings of their pool play bracket and then advance themselves through bracket play into contending for the world series championship itself!  While Zootown came out on the short end of a 5-0 score in that season finale, taking home hardware of any variety at this level of competition is a noteworthy accomplishment!

 

Readers from the area may not have paid close attention to the progress of this team as it was reported that the squad was comprised chiefly of Missoula girls that would have lacked any apparent local representation.  Interest  understandably tends to wane without the forging of some sort of  connnectedness.  But upon closer examination there would appear to be several shirttail strands that tie  to our Mission Valley area that would ordinarily have been easily overlooked.

 

Many of these players have frequented  Polson for the past several seasons to participate in the Splash Classic softball tournament held from early to mid June.  Callie McKillop (Hellgate), Adessa Gagner (Hellgate), Kaylee Rosenbaum (Big Sky) and Taylor Holmes (Sentinel) were part of the roster of the 16U Lady Osprey Delridge softball team that took 2nd place at the Splash tournament this year.  The year preceding, these players were part of the 2013 rendition of the 14U Lady Osprey ASA team that took 2nd at state with a roster that included Polson Lady Pirate pending sophomores Haley Fyant and Ashley Benson as part of that squad along with Mission-Arlee-Charlo Lady Bulldog Jordyn Eichert, the latter who was also part of their roster at the 16U level this summer.   One of the Lady Osprey coaches the past couple of seasons has been Shannon Holmes, a Ronan graduate (class of 1986) who works for Universal Athletics and father of  incoming Lady Spartan freshman Taylor.   Frankie Schwenk (Loyola), Hannah Hirning (Loyola), Jamie Schafer (Big Sky) and Sierrah Hardy (Big Sky) were teammates of Ronan Maidens Carston Rhine and Kaitlyn Sassaman this past summer on the 16U MT Avalanche Earl ASA softball squad.   One of the more familiar surnames on the Zootown roster would be that of Megan Delaney, who will be an incoming freshman at Frenchtown this coming fall and often goes by the nickname of Meggie.   She is the daughter of a cousin to Delaney’s Nursery owners Wes and Twila Delaney as well as recently retired ranchers Wayne and Linda Delaney, cousin to Michael, Tyler and Stephen Delaney of Charlo.  These athletic cousins as well as their other extended relations can perhaps take some credit for helping shape Meggie into such a speedy base runner on account of all the chasing around that took place in various games played at family related gatherings over the years.  Delaney was on the roster of the 16U ASA Frenchtown Fury along with fellow Lady Bronc Shelby Shourds.   Another player with a thinner connection to the area would be  Kendall Rauk (Big Sky), who has spent at least a day mingling with the Delaney clan at Flathead Lake a couple of summers ago.  

 

When these Zootown players captured the West Regional by dispatching Southern California (Victorville) by the score of 15-10, they secured a coveted ticket to the Senior Little League softball World Series being held in Delaware.  If the team could successfully negotiate the tiers of the World Series pool play ladder and emerge as one of the two top teams from their division, not only would they advance to compete in the championship rounds for a piece of hardware, but an additional incentive loomed in that the games  would be telecast on ESPN.  Ironically, four of the players on Zootown who attend Missoula Big Sky had already been featured on ESPN earlier this spring stemming from their  2nd championship loss  to Billings West at the State AA softball tournament by the uncharacteristic manner of a walk-off dropped third strike that circulated around the national telecasts on account of its unusualness.  Macey Newbary, Rauk, Schafer and Quincy Preston were highly motivated to achieve a measure of redemption, working hard to maneuver Zootown into position with a high quality of softball play that their squad might be telecast on ESPN in a more positive light at the national level.  Things initially looked somewhat bleak after being blanked by the team from Canada 2-0,  but Zootown swept the remainder of their pool play competition, culminating in a see-saw 5-3 contest over the Southwest Regional champs from Brownsville, TX.  That put them in the semifinal, where they advanced to secure a berth to play for the world series championship when they dispatched the Eastern Regional champions from Pennsylvania by the score of 5-1.  Unfortunately, Zootown was unable to prevail against the defending Central Regional champions from South Bend, Indiana, dropping the contest 5-0.  Even so, for a relatively local Montana squad to make such a deep foray into the brackets on the national stage in prep level softball is an astounding accomplishment irregardless of the less-than-preferred outcome.

 

If one has been doing the math on a sixteen player roster, that is eleven players who are known to have frequented the Mission Valley area.  Stretch the threads of these shirttail connections to a dozen at the very least when one factors in  Ronan graduate as well as coach Shannon Holmes.   It is almost enough to engage in a little bit of Karaoke by breaking out into a rendition of Disneyland’s “It’s a small world after all, …, it’s a small, small world.”

 

NOTE TO READERS:

The content of the above article is featured in print within the sports section of the 14 August 2014 issue of the Lake County LEADER (B1-2) with a slightly modified title.


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