The Saints softball team earned perhaps the biggest victory in its existence during the fall exhibition season, knocking off the University of Montana softball team 1-0 in Missoula a few weekends ago.
“For sure, it’s one of the marquee wins that we’ve had,” coach Aaron Jackson said. “Something that’s really important for our program. It’s something we set out to accomplish each year. Any chance you get to knock off Montana is special.”
For a program that has ebbed and flowed between winning and losing seasons during its existence, the win over Montana, a team that had gone to the NCAA Regionals a season ago, was indeed big. Both UM and CC started their programs in earnest in 2015. The two schools have played exhibitions each season. CC had come close earning its first win over Montana in the past, losing in eight innings last fall and falling 3-2 last spring, but something about this year’s team pushed the Saints over the top.
“Ali Williams gave us a game, you know?” Jackson said. “The seven hits she gave up… I know their middle of the lineup only got one hit that came. Williams pitched a heckuva of a game.”
Jackson said the game wasn’t a normal exhibition for both sides. Both Carroll and Montana used their top lineups, feeding into the rivalry a bit more.
“Montana and Carroll are a pretty big rivalry,” Jackson said. “Probably one of the most under reported rivalries in the state. We’ve been close every year during this time and in the spring we’ve been close to knocking them off. All the pieces came together.”
Carroll and Montana have a lot of connections up and down the roster. Many of the players have squared off in high school and have mutual respect for each other. The team’s building programs on similar time frames also gives them a unique bond.
Montana bounced back in the second game to win 12-2, a game Jackson said he mixed in more underclassmen as Montana rolled out its top lineup before mixing in some backups. Jackson said it’s especially important in exhibition play to allow his entire roster to get quality innings against tough opponents.
“Kudos to them to come back,” Jackson said. “I think they were ready to make a statement. We played some young kids in that game, too. All my freshman were playing in that game. It was a younger group. I wasn’t going out with my older players. We didn’t play a senior. We didn’t play a junior. It was a roster full of sophomore and freshman outside of our pitcher.
Everybody else was a freshman and sophomore. They went with a more experienced roster early on and got out to a quick lead. That probably factors into it. Some of the kids it was the first time they were playing Montana. That was a daunting task.”
The games against UM concluded exhibition play, and sent the program dormant during winter lifting and training until the springtime. CC will have some time off before the time hits the weight room and starts recalibrating for the regular season in 2018. Jackson said twice a week his team will split into hitting and fielding groups.
“Softball gets broken down into more skill development and fundamental work and breaking down some swings and the commitment,” Jackson said. “It’s a couple hours a week outside of normal training. More preparing our bodies physically and fine tuning the little skills of the game. More individual attention.”
The softball team will begin practices again after Christmas break, usually around mid-January in preparation of their first tournament in February. The Saints will also be finalizing details of their schedule in the short term.
“I’d like to throw in a piece about the great fan support in the fall,” Jackson said. “We don’t advertise that much and the Helena community continues to come out and support us. I want to thank them.”