BELGRADE – Eight is great for the Frenchtown girls’ softball team.
The Broncs captured their eighth state softball championship with a 2-1 win in eight innings over Polson on Saturday in the State A finale.
Frenchtown won five state titles at the Class B-C level and has added three more since moving up to Class A.
Rarely, though, have the titles been this dramatic.
Vanessa Stavish provided the heroics Saturday, belting a walk-off double to get the Broncs past Columbia Falls 4-3 in the undefeated game.
Then after three-time defending champ Polson knocked off Hamilton 13-3 and Columbia Falls 4-2 to earn a date with the Broncs in the title game, Stavish delivered a game-tying single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to send the title game to extra innings.
There it was Kayla Blood’s walk-off single that delivered the title to the Broncs.
“They’re all exciting,” Frenchtown coach Eli Field said. “They’ve all been kind of like this. You never blow anyone out in the championship game.”
The Broncs, who finished 24-3, began the tournament with a walk-off homer in a win over Anaconda, on a ball that bounced off the center fielder’s glove and over the fence.
“Three (walk-offs) in the tournament, that’s the kids just clawing and not giving up,” Field said. “You see that ball pop out of the glove (against Anaconda) and you say something good is happening here.
“The kids who got put in those situations stepped up and they earned it.”
Frenchtown 2, Polson 1, 8 innings
After Stavish’s two-out single sent the game to extra frames, Josie Anderson led off the eighth with a single.
Shelby Shourds came in to pinch-run for Anderson and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Holly Jacobs.
Blood took the first pitch she saw from Shalaina Duford and sent it into left field.
“The left fielder bobbled it, but we weren’t stopping at third anyway,” Field said.
Sophomore Morgan Ray pitched all eight innings to earn the win. She struck out 12 and walked one. She was also in the circle in the Broncs’ win over Columbia Falls earlier Saturday.
“She was hot, she was throwing well,” said Field, who has another top-flight hurler in senior Abby Indreland. “I figured we needed to ride her. That’s no discredit to Abby with all she’s done for the program.”
In fact, Indreland made several tough plays at shortstop that helped the game go to extra innings, Field said.
“It doesn’t matter where you put that kid, she’ll do something good for you,” Field said.
Taking the title away from the three-time defending champion Pirates (25-3) made it that much sweeter.
“You wouldn’t want it any other way,” Field said. “Someone was going to have to wrestle it away from them. (Duford) gave it everything she had. We would’ve been disappointed if it was against somebody else.”
The title game capped off a 1-2-3 finish for the Northwestern A as Columbia Falls finished third.
“How ’bout that Northwestern A?” Field said. “It’s tough. We’ve been saying it all year long. I’m really proud of our conference. It has first-class coaches all the way through.”
Polson 100 000 00 – 1 6 1
Fr-town 000 000 11 – 2 6 2
Shalaina Duford and Jaylin Kenney. Morgan Ray and Larissa Berg. W – Ray. L – Duford.
POLSON – Kenney 0-4, Duford 2-4, Jessica Bagnell 2-3, Heidi Rausch 0-3, Martina Marquardt 0-4, Hannah Potter 1-3, Jordyn Evertz 0-2, Sarah Rausch 0-0, Kylie Murphy 0-3, Jaiden Toth 1-3.
FRENCHTOWN – Holly Jacobs 0-4, Kayla Blood 2-4, Abby Indreland 0-3, Ray 2-3, Keegan Wickman 0-3, Krista Hebnes 0-3, Vanessa Stavish 1-3, Nicole Garren 0-1, Macey Newbary 0-2, Josie Anderson 1-3.
2B–Duford, Blood, Ray 2.
Polson 4, Columbia Falls 2
A three-run fifth inning carried the Pirates into the championship game.
Winning pitcher Duford had a pair of hits, as did Martina Marquardt. Marquardt, Jaylin Kenney and Jaiden Toth all had doubles for the Pirates.
Carlee Brown and Kathrin Jetty had two hits apiece for the third place Wildkats, who finished with a record of 17-9.
Loser takes third
C. Falls 000 101 0 – 2 5 0
Polson 100 030 x – 4 8 1
Ashley Trueblood and Courtnee Murray. Shalaina Duford and Jaylin Kenney. W – Duford. L – Trueblood.
COLUMBIA FALLS – Tiffany Hummer 0-4, Carlee Brown 2-3, Trueblood 0-3, Kathrin Jetty 2-3, Ciarra Holm 0-3, Winter Kemppainen 1-3, Alex Pederson 0-2, Madi Fetters 0-1, Catie King 0-2, Amanda Morrison 0-1, Murray 0-2, Breanna Friar 0-1.
POLSON – Kenney 1-4, Duford 2-3, Jessica Bagnell 0-2, Heidi Rausch 0-3, Martina Marquardt 2-3, Hannah Potter 1-2, Jordyn Evertz 0-2, Kaelen Wall 0-1, Kylie Murphy 1-2, Jaiden Toth 1-3.
2B–Toth, Marquardt, Kenney.
Polson 13, Hamilton 3
Hannah Potter and Jessica Bagnell hit homers in Polson’s 12-hit attack as the Pirates stayed alive in the losers’ bracket.
Bagnell finished with three hits, while Marquardt, Kenney and Jordyn Evertz had two apiece.
Duford allowed six hits while striking out six to earn the win.
McKayl Rothie, Taylor Goligoski and Sabrina Friday all had doubles for Hamilton, which finished fourth with a record of 15-10.
Loser takes fourth
Hamilton 111 00 – 3 6 5
Polson 113 44 – 13 12 1
Brie Clifford and unavailable. Shalaina Duford, Kylie Murphy (5) and Jaylin Kenney. W – Duford. L – Clifford.
HAMILTON – McKayl Rothie 1-2, Taylor Goligoski 1-3, Clifford 1-3, Tayler Reynolds 0-2, Shaylan Mohn 1-3, Sabrina Friday 1-2, Grace Zohner 1-3, Kiley Newton 0-2, Kloie Nye 0-2.
POLSON – Kenney 2-4, Duford 1-3, Jessica Bagnell 3-3, Heidi Rausch 1-3, Martina Marquardt 2-4, Hannah Potter 1-2, Jordyn Evertz 2-3, Sarah Rausch 0-2, Jaiden Toth 0-3.
2B–Rothie, Goligoski, Friday, Heidi Rausch. HR–Potter, Bagnell.
Frenchtown 4, Columbia Falls 3
Stavish broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the seventh with a walk-off double that sent the Broncs to the championship round.
Keegan Wickman was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame then was replaced by pinch-runner Laci Willett. Willett advanced to second on a ground out by Krista Hebnes, then scored on Stavish’s one-out double to the left-center gap.
Ray went the distance to record the pitching win.
Indreland homered for the Broncs and Macey Newbary had a double.
Brown and Catie King had two hits apiece for the Wildkats, who scored three in the top of the sixth to tie the game.
C. Falls 000 003 0 – 3 6 1
Fr-town 000 210 1 – 4 4 1
Ashley Trueblood and Courtnee Murray. Morgan Ray and Larrisa Berg. W – Ray. L – Trueblood.
COLUMBIA FALLS – Tiffany Hummer 0-4, Carlee Brown 2-3, Trueblood 0-4, Kathrin Jetty 1-3, Ciarra Holm 0-3, Winter Kemppainen 1-2, Alex Pederson 0-3, Catie King 2-3, Murray 0-3.
FRENCHTOWN – Holly Jacobs 0-3, Kayla Blood 0-3, Abby Indreland 1-3, Ray 0-3, Keegan Wickman 0-2, Krista Hebnes 1-3, Vanessa Stavish 1-3, Nicole Garren 0-1, Macey Newbary 1-1.
2B–Stavish, Newbary. HR–Indreland.