FRENCHTOWN — Less than two seasons ago, Florence captured a Class B-C state softball title against Libby at the Frenchtown softball complex, kicking off a back-to-back run for the two-time defending champion Falcons.
Last season, though, the Falcons didn't have the Loggers to contend with as Libby was reclassified to the larger school enrollment of Class A.
On Friday, the old foes got to go at it again with Libby getting the best of Florence 13-3 at the Frenchtown Invitational — the same site of Florence's championship celebration in the spring of 2017.
"It’s been a great relationship. I hated to see Libby go back to (Class) A because it was some good competition for us," Florence coach Rob Ralls said. "We always want to play good teams. It makes us better."
Some coaches may have felt a small sense of vindication in the victory, but Libby skipper Dean Thompson doubled down on the compliments as he praised his opponent, too.
"They’re a great, great team and I have great respect for the Florence program. We enjoy them. (Coach Ralls) and I go back, we’ve been coaching for a long time," Thompson said. "From playing them in the state tournament a couple years ago, it’s kind of a little rivalry with a lot of our girls coming back."
One of those players who played in both the state title game and Friday's matchup was Florence's Shannon Byrne. The senior, who went 2-for-5 in 2017's title game, had a 4-for-4 day from the leadoff spot.
Unfortunately her fourth hit of the day ended in disaster. Even with the Falcons trailing 8-3 in the top of the sixth inning in a timed nonconference tournament game, Byrne tried to stretch her scalding base hit to left field into a double.
The returning all-stater sped into second base with a half slide that turned into an awkward stumble on the tag out. Byrne had to be carried off the field with an apparent left ankle injury. The diagnosis late Friday fortunately said there was no break, but coach Ralls said Byrne is likely dealing with a badly sprained ankle.
"We knew we weren’t going to have Shannon (pitch) this weekend, but now with her ankle... we're just beat up (as a team)," said Ralls, pointing out lingering injuries to several others on the team, before praising Byrne on her heart and determination. "That’s how she is. (Shannon) plays really aggressive all the time and that’s what we love about her. She leads by example. The other girls thrive off that and you could feel the momentum shift when she got hurt."
You could also see the mutual respect each program had for one another. Libby's celebration — in what amounted to a redemption win — was muted, even as the Loggers added on with five more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
After both teams shook hands, some Libby players also came over to the Florence dugout and congratulated Byrne on a good game. Coach Thompson himself went into the opposing dugout to speak with Byrne and the rest of the Florence players.
"I just told (Shannon) to get back," Thompson said. "She’s just a great kid and she’s a competitor. We love playing games (with teams and players) like this and you never want anybody to get hurt. We want them to come back and get strong and be right back in the state championship representing the West."
Florence is back on the field in Frenchtown at noon on Saturday against Belgrade in a matchup between two-time defending state champions in their respective classifications. The Panthers, who topped Corvallis 18-2 on Friday, are the reigning Class A champs twice over after besting Hamilton in the 2018 title game and Frenchtown in 2017.
Libby is back in action at 2 p.m. against Hamilton. Hamilton won twice on Friday, beating Florence 17-4 in the early game and edging Lewistown, 5-4. Jorden Taggart twice pitched a complete game for the Broncs, striking out 17 over the 13 innings. Mikaylin Brickley went 4 for 5 with a grand slam and nine RBIs between the two games for the Broncs.
Stevensville topped Browning early Friday, but the Yellowjackets fell in a close game to Lewistown late, 10-8.