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HELENA — Helena High School softball coach Ryan Schulte summarized his doubleheader against Missoula Sentinel and Big Sky high schools in one sentence.

“We have to hit the ball better against better pitching,” he said.

Schulte had just finished watching his Bengals first get shut out by the Class AA Western leading Spartans 9-0, and then come back and defeat Big Sky 23-0.

The difference? Sentinel’s pitcher, Grace Hardy.

The sophomore dominated the Bengals (7-7, 5-4), allowing just three hits while striking out eight batters en route to her first complete game shutout this season.

“My fastball was working but I couldn’t hit my spots,” Hardy said, chuckling. “I just relied on throwing hard to get it past them.”

But before she stepped into the circle, she gave herself a little momentum when she hammered a 3-run home run in the first inning.

During her second at bat, she took an identical pitch over the wall again, giving the Spartans (13-4, 10-2) a 5-0 lead.

Though Helena found itself in a giant hole early, they still tried to claw back.

The Bengals had hits in each of the first three innings but left a pair of runners in scoring position.

“We have to be more consistent,” Schulte said. “I think the girls get a little tight when they get down and that is something we have to overcome.”

Sentinel broke the game wide open in the fifth inning, scoring 4 more runs, highlighted by a two-out single by Jalen Cooper to score 2 runs.

Now armed with a 9-run lead, all Hardy had to do was to throw strikes.

She retired the final 12 batters to claim the win.

Bengals blank Big Sky 23-0 in 5 innings

Helena rebounded during the second game of the doubleheader with a 23-0 win over Big Sky (0-15, 0-11).

The Bengals didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard when Vanessa Wash hit a 2-run home run to highlight a 4-run first inning.

The Bengals extended their lead to 7-0 in the second inning when Walsh singled to left field for her third RBI of the game.

Helena broke the game wide open in the fourth inning when it put up 16 runs in the fourth inning as the lineup batted around twice.

Lauren Irwin finished with two hits and 3 RBIs, while Veronica Hansen finished with two hits and 3 RBIs.

“I thought we played pretty well in the second game,” Schulte said. “We will take a win any way we can get it.”

Helena continues its season Tuesday when it travels crosstown to Helena Capital.

Schulte did not say who he was going to start in the circle, but he knows his team could face Bruins pitcher Nicole Ames.

“We are going to see another good pitcher tomorrow,” Schulte said. “Our girls just need to be confident.”

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Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Email him at ryan.kuhn@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

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