The first sanctioned high school girl’s fastpitch softball season was inaugurated 34 years ago. Originally, all local games were played at Batch Fields, and every statewide team automatically qualified for the State Tournaments.
This is the first of a four-part series, highlighting the crosstown rivalry between Helena High and Capital High, both team’s appearances in the State tourneys, and a mention of individual post season award recipients.
Capital High was victorious in that initial contest at Batch Fields in 1986, by a score of 24-6 in five innings. Helena hurler Kym Tompkins delivered the first pitch, and winning pitcher Michelle Eble of the Lady Bruins scored the first run.
CHS’s 16-hit attack was spearheaded by Karen Langford and Kari Parsley, who both went 3-for-3, and Eble and Mary Ebert, each blasting 2-run homers. Parsley’s daughter, Kelsi Brekke, was a 3-time all-state shortstop for the Lady Bruins 20 years later. Missy Jaeb and Lisa Burton led HHS with two hits apiece.
“Considering it was the first game, I thought we would have the jitters,” Capital coach Bob Tipton told the IR afterwards. “I felt real good about the way Michelle pitched, the kids did a real nice job on defense and we ran the bases aggressively.”
Capital garnered the intra-city rematch, 16-6. The Lady Bengals took a 6-3 lead in the top of third, but CHS rallied with four runs in their half of the inning, and then pulled away for the victory, helped by 10 Helena errors. Eble pitched a 3-hitter in the 5-inning tilt.
At the 1986 State Tournament in Helena – four of the 11 teams were Class A schools – Billings Senior captured the first MHSA state softball championship. Capital went 1-2 and finished at 10-9, while the Lady Bengals were 2-2 and wound up 6-13.
Arguably the most dramatic local win was HHS’ 16-15 victory over Sentinel in extra innings, having trailed 13-3 heading into their last at-bat. “I’m proud of the way the kids played tough in the tournament, after getting off to such a slow start early on,” said Lady Bengal coach Tom Keck, referring to his team’s 0-9 beginning.
Locals selected to the inaugural all-state first team were Capital senior pitcher Michelle Eble and junior third baseman Lynda Bartsch of Helena. Sarah Burgess (CHS, shortstop), who batted .400, and Jaeb (HHS, shortstop) made second team all-state.
In the season’s lone intra-city tilt, HHS rallied from behind back for a 5-3 victory, and its’ first triumph in the young series. Lynda Bartsch pitched the win, while Karen Langford was saddled with the loss. Both gals threw 5-hitters. Lisa Burton led the Lady Bengals with two hits, and scored the winning run on Missy Jaeb’s sacrifice fly. CHS’ Traci Schlenske and Mollie Hull also had two base knocks apiece.
Capital went 2-2 at State, tied for fifth-place, and wound up 10-12 overall. HHS was 1-2 and finished 12-9. The Lady Bruins were ousted from the tourney by eventual State runner-up Big Sky, 9-7, with seven of MBS’ runs being unearned.
Burgess was 31-for-47 on the season for a lofty .444 average and left with a career average of .412. She was selected a first team all-stater, while teammates Karen Langford, Mary Ebert and Mollie Hull made honorable mention.
Helena’s top hitters were Lynda Bartsch and Shar Ritchie, who batted .452 and .450, respectively. Ritchie was named to the all-state’s second team.
In the regular season’s lone Xtown, freshman catcher Jennifer Shellabarger’s walk-off 2-run, 2-out single vaulted Capital to a 10-9 victory. The Lady Bengals overcame an 8-1 deficit to pull ahead 9-8 in the top of the seventh. HHS took the lead in the top of the seventh on singles by Lorraine Hankins and Michelle Sandholm, and Shawna Maness’ fielder’s choice.
In the bottom of the seventh, CHS’ Nicole Duvernay and Carrie Pullen led off with walks, setting up Shellabarger’s game-winner. J’Dawn Wiley pitched the win, while Jaeb took the loss.
Shellabarger led CHS’ offense during the regular season with a .400 average, followed by Molly Hull at .380. Helena’s top hitter was Bartsch, with a .375 mark.
Capital (13-13) again went 2-2 at State in Missoula. Their second win was an elimination 11-1 triumph over the Lady Bengals (8-15). Shelly Voytoski, Mary Ebert and Hull, all had multi-hit games for the Bru-crew. Wiley twirled a 2-hitter for the win. Bartsch was hung with the defeat.
CHS’ top hitters in the four tourney games were Mollie Hull and Shelly Voytoski, with averages of .643 and .538.
Capital outfielder Nicole Duvernay, and Helena third baseman Lynda Bartsch and shortstop Missy Jaeb (all seniors) were selected second team all-staters. Lady Bruin first baseman Mary Ebert was named honorable mention.
HHS built a 7-0 lead before Capital charged back with a late rally, which fell just short as the Lady Bengals prevailed 9-7 in the lone intra-city game. Jaeb hurled the win and Wiley was tabbed with the loss.
Helena’s hitting was paced by Shawna Maness, Cyndie Lockett, Martha Schroeder, Kim Bartsch and Rosie Casey. Hull, Traci Schlenske, Schellabrger and Kris Kartevold led CHS’s offense.
At the State Tournament in Bozeman, both teams went 2-2, with Capital finishing at 13-8, and Helena at 11-12. The No. 9 Lady Bengals bumped off No. 1 seed Cut Bank in the second round, 6-3, while CHS’ most notable win was a 24-8 trouncing of Sentinel.
Lady Bruin junior outfielder Carrie Pullen, and Helena senior pitcher Missy Jaeb headlined the post season awards, being selected first and second team all-State, respectively. Honorable mention citations went to Marie Schroeder (HHS) at first base, and second baseman Keithi Worthington (CHS).
Capital won the season’s first Xtown 16-1, behind pitcher Heidi Moon’s 1-hitter. Brown-and-gold diamonders with multi-hit games were Annie Farnum (3-4), Pullen, Shellabarger and Shelly Sprecklemeyer. Kim Bartsch’s leadoff bunt single in the fifth spoiled Moon’s no-hitter.
“Heidi pitched a great game,” new CHS coach Bill Mulcahy said. “We played good defense, made good contact with the ball and we forced things to happen on offense.”
Capital garnered a sweep in the rematch, 14-6, powered by a 12-run first inning. Pullen and Sprecklemeyer paced the offense with a combined five hits. The Lady Bengals committed nine errors in the first inning. Relief pitcher Jenny Brown worked the last five innings, holding CHS hitless for three frames. Marie Schroeder went 2-for-4 for Helena.
Capital captured the regular season Western AA championship with a 14-2 record, but they were eliminated from the Divisional Tournament in Missoula in the consolation bracket and finished at 17-6 overall. It was CHS’ only missed State Tourney in 34 years, until this season’s COVID-19 pandemic.
Lady Bruin pitching aces Moon and Wiley finished the season at 9-3 and 8-3, respectively.
No. 6 seed Helena High ran the table at divisionals, beating Hellgate in both the semi-finals and chipper, by scores of 2-1 and 10-9. All four of the Lady Bengals 1-run wins came in their last at-bat.
“I can’t say enough good things about Jenny…she’s a classy player,” HHS first-year coach Al Hartman said of Brown, who pitched 3 of their 4 wins.
Helena entered the State Tournament in Billings riding a 9-game win streak. Their top batsmen consisted of Cyndie Lockett, hitting a cool .378, and Kim Bartsch’s .363. Brown took a 10-5 mark into the tourney. The Lady Bengals then went 0-2 at State to finish at 14-14. Their Western AA crown remains the only divisional championship in program history.
Three local softballers earned all-state selections, including Capital’s Heidi Moon, pitcher, and outfielder Carrie Pullen; and Helena sophomore shortstop Cyndie Lockett.
Those making 1990’s second team All-Conference were HHS pitcher Jenny Brown; and CHS’ Jenny Shellabarger, catcher, and Shelly Sprecklemeyer, infielder. Honorable mention choices were Lady Bruins’ J’Dawn Wiley (P) and Kris Kartevold (1B).
The season’s first intra-city tilt was a rain-shortened 5-inning affair, with Helena scoring five runs in the top of the fifth for a come-from-behind 8-5 win. Terri Maness drove in two runs for HHS, while teammate Kim Bartsch went 2-for-4, with a triple. Lady Bruin Lisa Hixson stroked a 2-run double. Brown pitched a 2-hitter for the win, striking out four. Moon took the loss.
Round 2 at Helena’s practice field (now called Mihelish Field) saw the Lady Bengals jump out to a 10-1 lead, and then hold off CHS’ furious rally for a 15-13 victory. Winning pitcher Jenny Brown led Helena’s offense with four base knocks (2 runs, 2 RBIs), followed by Terri Maness’ four RBIs. Teammate Rosie Casey laced a 3-run homer.
The Lady Bruins out-hit their counterparts, 14-12, led by pitcher Keithi Worthington’s four hits (homer, 3 RBIs). Ann Farnam (2 runs), Moon (2 RBIs) and Shellabarger, chipped in with two base raps apiece.
At State in Missoula, the two teams met in Crosstown 3 in an elimination tilt on Friday, with Helena (10-13) prevailing 8-4. Terri Maness went 3-for-4 (double, 2 RBIs) and Kim Bartsch drove in three runs. Hixson and Farnam (double) posted a pair of hits for CHS (10-14). Brown – who led the team with a .494 batting average during the regular season – pitched the win, while Moon took the loss.
Capital senior catcher Jenny Shellabarger was chosen for the 1991 all-state team. Teammate Heidi Moon made first team all-conference pitcher, while HHS pitcher Jenny Brown, and CHS outfielder Lisa Hixson, were tabbed to the second team.
Helena bounced Capital 12-6 in the season’s initial intra-city match-up, behind the hot bats of Terri Maness (3-4, 3 RBIs) and Kim Walkenhorst (3-4, triple), Cyndie Lockett (triple, 2 RBIs) and Kim Bartsch (double, 2 RBIs). Kim Bartsch pitched a 5-hitter for the win, striking out 14.
CHS was led by Raelyn Rowsey (2-3) and Michelle Erdie (2 RBIs). Kerry Schneckloth sustained the defeat in the circle.
The Lady Bengals got the season sweep three weeks later, 15-5, with Rodgers and Sherri Smith combing on a 2-hitter. Lockett (double, triple, 3 runs) and Rodgers (triple, 3 RBIs) stroked three hits each, while Maness (2B), Walkenhorst and Smith each had two base knocks. Capital shortstop Shannon Backeberg produced a 2-run single.
At the State Tourney in Bozeman, Capital (5-18) went 1-2, while Helena (6-16) was 0-2.
“We’re a young team and kind of struggled all year, but they came down here and got some respect,” said rookie CHS coach Bob Worthington, when his No. 13 seeds beat Bozeman after a 1-run loss to State runner-up Skyview. “Kerry Schneckloth pitched two fine games…and Lisa Hixson (.625 in 3 games) hit the ball well and did a marvelous job in centerfield for us.”
Lady Bengal centerfielder Cyndie Lockett, team batting champ with a healthy .474 mark, garnered her second, first team all-state citation. She literally rewrote the school’s record book, etching her name at the top of 8 offensive categories. Hixson was tabbed second team all-state.
Locals making honorable mention all-conference were catchers Terri Maness (HHS), and Raelynn Rowsey, who paced the Lady Bruins with a .412 average.
Capital triumphed over HHS 16-6 to open the season. The Lady Bruins’ 18-hit onslaught was spearheaded by Danielle Eby’s three base raps, and two safeties each by Kendra Zins (double, 2 RBIs), Genine Hudoba (homer), Kris Horne (2 RBIs), Kari Lythgoe (3 runs), Erdie and winning pitcher Schneckloth (2 RBIs).
Helena’s Lora Pyfer went 2-for-3, with an RBI-triple. Sherri Smith was hung with the defeat.
In the intra-city rematch, the Lady Bruins edged their opponents 9-8 for the sweep, powered by multi-hit games from Backeberg and Erdie, and Kelli Wines’ double. Lora Pyfer, Rodgers and Smith had three hits apiece for HHS.
At State in Helena, Capital (7-13) and Helena (3-17) went 1-2 and 0-2, respectively. The Lady Bruins beat Kalispell’s Bravettes 2-1, propelled by Backeberg’s inside-the-park home run in the eighth inning, and the 5-hit pitching of Schneckloth.
Genine Hudoba, CHS junior first baseman, was named to the All-Western AA first team.
Those garnering second team citations were Lady Bruins pitcher Kerry Schneckloth and shortstop Danielle Eby, and HHS outfielder Erika Lieberg. Earning HM all-conference were Helena’s Rindi Pocha (catcher) and Lady Bruin Shannon Backeberg (second base).
Curt Synness can be reached at 449-2150 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s also on Twitter @curtsynness_IR.
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