BUTTE — The Helena Capital High softball team could only describe its first-round AA State Tournament game with a few words.
“It was nerve-racking,” Bruins second baseman Jenna Priddy said.
Priddy rode the wave of emotions as her team was handed an early deficit, only to tie the score on a home run by Ally McMillan with two outs in the top of the seventh inning.
Priddy took the game into her hands three innings later when she laced a double into right field as Capital came away with a 5-3 win over Billings Skyview at Stodden Park on Thursday afternoon.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this group as a team for hanging in there,” Capital coach Mike Miller said.
It looked like the game was going to turn into a pitcher’s duel as both starters did not lose focus in the circle.
Falcons senior Shea Earley mowed down the first 11 batters and was throwing a no-hitter into the fifth inning until Sara Bury punched a single into left field.
Capital’s ace, Nicole Ames, gave up an unearned run in the first inning but struck out the side in the second and pitched out of trouble in the third to get back on track.
Skyview’s offense finally came through in the fifth inning when shortstop Kaylee Kannegiesser drove in Natalie Beck to double the score. After walking home Ashlynne Copinga, the Falcons held the momentum, but Miller knew his team wasn’t out of it.
“We just could never get over the hump,” Miller said. “I knew we would stick together and keep fighting.”
Trouble found Earley right away when Ames singled up the middle, and after a fielder’s choice that put Sara Bury on first base with two outs, McMillian stepped to the plate.
She saw a 3-0 high fast ball that she ended up hitting over the wall to tie the game.
It was her only hit of the day, but she said it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It really wasn’t a pitch I would think to hit,” McMillan said. “I just knew I had to make something happen for the team.”
Capital kept the Skyview bats quiet just long enough for the 10th inning, when Priddy’s two-run double brought the dugout to its feet.
“I was actually struggling at the plate during the start of the game,” Priddy said. “I was just happy I could pull through.”
Skyview had one more chance, but Ames struck out the side to end the game.
“I thought our girls handled it great,” Falcons coach Michael Falcon said. “We have been in pressure situations all year and they did a good job not letting the pressure get to them.
The win moves the Bruins to the second round at 10 a.m. Friday, where they face Billings Senior, who defeated Kalispell Glacier 6-0 earlier in the day. Skyview faces Kalispell Glacier at noon.
Great Falls 11, Helena 1
Helena probably wishes it could play the first inning of their first round game against Great Falls over again.
The top-ranked Bison crushed three home runs to push across seven runs in the first inning and go onto win 11-1 in five innings.
Being that the tournament is double-elimination, Bengals coach Ryan Schulte told his girls after to simply put it behind them.
“They hit the ball,” Schulte said of Great Falls. “That’s what they do.”
Junior Rachel Porter started the scoring with a three-run home run followed by a solo shot by Madylynn Ray. Minutes later, Skylar Anthony hit one that was just out of reach of the right fielder’s glove.
Helena pitcher Mariah English tried to get the offense started in the second inning when she belted a solo home run over the center field wall, but that was all the Bengals could muster.
Helena will now play Missoula Sentinel in an elimination game at noon Friday, while Great Falls takes on Billings West at 10 a.m.
Billings West 12, Missoula Sentinel 10
Billings West defeated Missoula Sentinel in an offensive slugfest. The Golden Bears’ Kinzee Koch finished the game in the circle with 11 strikeouts and hit a three-run home run, while Lauren Blaschak was 3-for-5 with two doubles and five RBIs.
West moves on to the next round at 10 a.m. Friday against Great Falls. Sentinel plays Helena at noon in the consolation bracket.
Billings Senior 6, Kalispell Glacier 0
Billings Senior upset Kalispell Glacier in their first-round game. Glacier is top-seeded team out of the Western Conference and Senior seeded fourth out of the Eastern Conference.
Cassidy Venner hit a home run for the Broncs, while sister Kennedy Venner pitched a one-hit shutout with eight strikeouts.
Senior moves into the next round against Capital at 10 a.m. Friday. Glacier goes into the consolation bracket against Skyview at noon Friday.