Posted: Apr 11, 2012 7:50 PM by Richie Melby
Updated: Apr 11, 2012 7:52 PM
Softball fields across the Treasure State took on a new dimension in the 2011 season as the pitcher's mound moved back an extra three feet to the 43-foot mark, which was expected to change the game in Montana. The elite pitchers still threw strikes, the consistent batters still knocked the ball in play and the sport of softball went on as planned. As we approach the bulk of the 2012 fastpitch season, returning pitchers have more experience in the circle, but could it be the bats that steal the show?
I feel confident saying 2011 was one of the stronger pitching years I have seen since I began covering the sport of softball. A select few of those standouts are back for another campaign, but many have moved on from the high school level. Gone are the Jessyka MacDonalds (West) and the Jenna Krums (Helena). Kirstie Thomas (Senior) and Jaimee Paffhausen (Butte) have also graduated and taken numerous of strikeouts with them. That's not to take anything away from the outstanding pitchers left in 2012 (Apple/Petersen of Capital, Keeler/Hartman of CMR, Hoskins and Reitz of Senior and Skyview just to name a few) but I expect to see batters be the difference-maker over the next couple months.
Already this season we have seen double-digit scoring performances, sometimes from each team on the field. There have been 15-20 run outbursts from select dugouts in 2012, and home runs have come pretty handily in the early season. I don't expect those kind of stats to continue as we begin conference play, but it won't surprise me to see rivalry games being scored in double-digits, with one team winning by a single run.
My hunch is simply this; while the past couple seasons we have seen pitchers (from all around the state) dominate the clutch moments, get out of jams, and carry their team to a State Championship, this season it will be the clutch hitters that change the game, those strong bats that overshadow the pitchers, and the most consistent team at the plate will win the State AA Championship.
There's my challenge to you pitchers. Prove me wrong. Batters, don't let me down!
With that being said, here are my predictions for the State AA Softball season.
EASTERN AA REGULAR SEASON
2. Billings Skyview
3. Great Falls High
4. Billings Senior
5. Billings West
WESTERN AA REGULAR SEASON
1. Helena Capital
2. Missoula Sentinel
3. Missoula Hellgate
4. Helena High
5. Missoula Big Sky
6. Kalispell Flathead
7. Kalispell Glacier
STATE AA CHAMPIONSHIP
Helena Capital over CMR
STATE AA 3RD PLACE
Billings Skyview over Great Falls High
I know what many of you are probably thinking. CMR has already beat Helena Capital twice this season (once in the Jamboree, once in non-conference action), but I watched these Capital seniors win a State Title as freshmen and they have only grown stronger since then. Jessie Apple and Jordan Petersen may be the best 1-2 pitching duo in the State, and players like Mulcahy, Tripp and Morgan will step up big. I won't count out CMR though, as the Lady Rustlers have a strong motivation after the team missed out on the State Tournament for the first time ever just one year ago. Keeler is a stud on the mound, while the freshman Hartman dominated the Electric City Heat Tournaments last summer. Add in the likes of Peer, Otis (both of them), Rowe and Darby and this team has the makings of a State Champion.
As far as the 3rd place game is concerned, Skyview has some serious talent starting with Reitz on the mound. She is one of the pitchers we will be talking about throughout the year. Throw in Woodley, Schanz, Rickhoff and company and the Lady Falcons of coach Mike Falcon, could very well win any of the three trophies by season's end. My only concern with Great Falls High is, can they keep it up? The Lady Bison didn't lose a single athlete from last year (although star pitcher Lacey Bushong is out with injury, perhaps for the season) and the experience will show. The team does a great job hitting and has an excellent defense, new coach Mike Coleman just needs the pitchers to hit their spots consistently.
May 26th isn't that far off, meaning teams have limited time to perfect the rosters, shore up the injuries and start thinking about Kalispell for the State AA Tournament. If Mother Nature doesn't wreak havoc, fans are in for another fun year on the diamond.