Champs Again: Frenchtown takes state A crown
It was the toughest contest the Broncs faced against Class A competition all season long, but in the end the Broncs outlasted Belgrade 9-5 in extra innings to win the state championship for a second consecutive season.
The day started off with relative ease for the Broncs on Saturday's final day of action at the Class A state tournament in Polson. The Broncs had a 9:00 am date with Northwest Conference rival Libby in the unbeaten semifinals. The contest was close headed into the 6th with the Broncs leading the Loggers just 3-2. Then Frenchtown blew the game open thanks in large to home runs by both Morgan Ray and Krista Hebnes. The Broncs got the win 11-2 the final over Libby to advance into the championship game.
After defeating Libby 4-2 in the third place contest it was the Belgrade Panthers who earned the right to battle with Frenchtown, needing two victories over the Broncs to earn the state crown.
Frenchtown disposed of Belgrade easily both times the two teams faced off earlier in the spring, and early on in Saturday's title game it looked as though that would be the theme once again. Frenchtown raced out to a 5-0 lead over the Panthers thanks to an RBI single by Josie Anderson and a 2-run base knock by Ray.
But in the fourth inning Belgrade's bats, who recorded just one total hit off Ray in two regular season meetings, seemed to finally figure things out. The Panthers produced three runs on four hits in that frame to cut their deficit to 5-3.
That score remained until Belgrade come up for one last chance in the bottom of the 7th inning. But the rally caps were working for the #1 seed out of the Central Division as a one-out, bases loaded double off the bat of Skyla Neubauer drove in two Panther runs to things up 5-5 and create a whole new ball-game. Ray was able to get the next two outs and prevent Belgrade from the walk-off victory.
"I was stressing out and my third baseman Keegan (Wickman) came up to me and said, ‘You know, if it doesn’t go our way, we have a whole ’nother game,’” said Ray about the pressure situation in the bottom of the 7th. As things turned out Frenchtown wouldn't need that second championship game to get things done.
Neither team found the score column in the 8th inning but the Frenchtown offense was finally able to finds it's stroke again in the top-9th. Base hits by Ray, Vanessa Stavish and Keegan Wickman helped the Broncs out to a 7-5 lead. Then the nail in the coffin was delivered as Kaylee Prather launched one into the centerfield bleachers for a 2-run home run to make it a 9-5 game. Belgrade's rally magic ran dry in the bottom half of the inning and Frenchtown was able to celebrate their extra inning championship win.
Most of this year's Broncs team already knew the feeling of a state softball championship, but the seniors say the two-peat is even better:
"Yeah I thought about it and I was like 'I wonder if it's gonna feel as good as last year?'" said senior first baseman Vanessa Stavish. "But it definitely feels so much better."
"It was an amazing feeling and I can't believe... I can't even describe it right now," said senior Kayla Blood after the game.
Up until Saturday afternoon's chipper the Broncs faced little resistance at the state tournament in Polson. When the dust settled, Frenchtown went 4-0 over the three day span and outscored their opponents by a final tally of 38-7. The consecutive championship also caps off an unprecedented 23-1 overall record with their only stumble coming against AA opponent Missoula Big Sky (who ended up second at the state AA tournament in Great Falls).
"Boy it feels good,” Broncs head coach Eli Field said after the game. “They were so focused. They worked so hard. They’re so deserving. It’s great to see these girls walking around with their families right now, the tears and just how much it means to them.”