MISSOULA — Loyola Sacred Heart softball coach Brian Bessette didn’t know the head coaching position was going to be open when his daughter transferred to the school in November.
But when the spot became available, the longtime coach who’s made several stops across the city threw his name in the ring.
“I talked with her if she wanted me to keep coaching or just be dad this spring,” Bessette recalled after Loyola dropped a 4-3 game to Anaconda on Thursday despite a strong pitching performance from Kayla Hickethier.
“Sometimes it could feel like I’m putting more pressure on her, and that could be challenging for her, but she said absolutely. I love the game. It’s a fun game. So I’m glad to be out here.”
Bessette has been just about everywhere in Missoula. He went to Hellgate and played Legion baseball for the Mavericks before stops at two junior colleges and multiple fastpitch softball teams. He’s also coached softball at Sentinel, Big Sky and the Bitterroot Sparks summer league team before landing at Loyola this year.
Coming from a family of ballplayers, Bessette once coached an all-star softball team that included current Montana Grizzly softball coach Melanie Meuchel, his cousin. And his daughter McKenna Bessette is a fourth-generation fastpitch player who’s already committed to North Idaho College as a junior.
“It’s been a family sickness for a long time,” Bessette joked. “We just love the game.”
He’s been on the coaching side of the game for nearly 30 years now, and it’s apparent his passion for softball and developing players persists.
“In fact, I can hardly watch baseball anymore on TV. It’s always college fastpitch,” Bessette said. “It’s such a fast, fun game. I just love it because there’s still all the strategy of baseball and small ball.
“The girls, they really appreciate any improvements you make with them. They want to learn, and they absorb it, so that’s a fun perk.”
With a mix of veteran talent and newcomers learning the fundamentals, Bessette knows he has a challenge on his hands at the B-C level, which he said has top-tier talent but lacks the depth of bigger schools. And with the Breakers missing a couple starters — including his daughter, who’ll be eligible to play next week — the Breakers suffered their fifth consecutive loss to fall to 3-5.
What made Thursday’s loss painful to Bessette was Hickethier put together a strong performance in which she struck out 15 batters, gave up just six hits and didn’t surrender a walk. She’s up to 84 strikeouts compared to 13 walks in 45 innings this season but has a 3-4 record to show for her work.
Three of the four runs she gave up were unearned because the Breakers committed four errors behind her, including a pair of two-out errors in the seventh inning that led to the winning run. And Hickethier didn’t get much help from her offense, which managed eight hits but left 11 runners on base against Anaconda senior pitcher Ashley Gates.
“She was owning the outside corner,” Bessette said of Gates. “She hit that spot and pitched a great game. It’s one of those that’s frustrating to watch because you’re waiting for that adjustment to happen, but she just kept pitching a great game.”
Anaconda was down two of its starting infielders, and catcher Aubrey Tuss came through as one of the batters who solved the hard-throwing Hickethier. She hit her first career home run to put the Copperheads up 1-0 in the fourth inning, and her RBI double in the sixth gave them a 3-2 lead.
Bessette still has a bright outlook for his team despite the current struggles. He’s hopeful they’ll be boosted by finally getting in a full week’s worth of practices next week and getting back some of their starters who’ve missed time.
“I don’t feel good about where we are, but I feel good about where we’ll be,” Bessette said. “I want a good finish for these seniors. They took third at state last year, and I feel we should be at least there this year if not playing for that championship. That goal hasn’t changed. I really think when we get everyone together we’ll be tough to beat.”