MISSOULA — Missoula Sentinel pitcher Shelby Dunwell was busy on Saturday. After tossing a complete-game win against Billings Skyview, she was called in for some much-needed relief work against Billings West.
The junior stopped the bleeding, allowing just one hit in the final 3 2/3 innings, but the young Spartans couldn’t rally and suffered a 10-5 loss to finish the weekend 2-2 against three teams from Billings.
“We got to see a lot of different things, everything we wanted to see,” Sentinel head coach Dustin Delridge said. “We got girls in different positions and started to finalize where some girls will play. We got to see three of our pitchers, so that was good.
"Every girl had some really good highlights throughout the weekend. They're picking each other up. We can compete if we do the right things. It was nice to see three different teams, three good teams. It was a valuable weekend.”
Dunwell is part of a young pitching staff that graduated all of its starters from last year’s state runner-up team. She’s the only one of the team’s three pitchers who has varsity experience, and she said she pitched only one time last season.
Dunwell, the opening-day starter, showed flashes of good pitching over the weekend. Against West, she retired 11 of the 13 batters she faced, struck out six and walked one. The lone run she allowed was an inherited runner when she came in with the bases loaded.
“I think she’s a good pitcher,” Billings West coach Preston Sanders said. “She hits her spots well. She was keeping it outside and away from us. So, that’s something we’ll work on because a lot of teams keep it low on us but she was working low and outside.”
On Saturday morning, Dunwell limited Skyview to two earned runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out six in seven innings for a 7-3 win. On Friday, however, she gave up five earned runs on 11 hits in a 6-1 loss to Billings Senior.
Dunwell, who also has pitching experience in travel ball, is focusing on controlling her fastball and having faith in her defense behind her.
“Just make sure to hit my spots and hopefully I can get a grounder so my team can get an out,” Dunwell said. “I just need to trust my defense because I know they’re back there. And just when I pitch, not have fear that they’re not going to make an out. I just have to be confident.”
Sentinel’s other pitchers are Makenzie Moore, who was on junior varsity last year, and freshman Amy Taylor. Sophomore Grace Hardy may pitch but hasn’t yet.
Moore gave up six runs in 1 2/3 innings in her start against West. That came one day after she hurled a 2-1 complete-game victory over Senior in which she gave up one run on four hits. Taylor allowed four runs in 1 2/3 innings of relief against West.
The Spartans have focused on hitting, fielding and base running early on, but it’s the pitching staff’s development that’ll be key going forward.
“It’s huge,” Delridge said. “We can score six runs a game, but we might give up six runs a game. If we can keep a team under, I think we have a shot.”
The 10 runs Sentinel allowed were a season-low for the Golden Bears. West scored 73 runs in four games in Missoula, putting up 20 and 21 against Big Sky on Friday and 22 against Hellgate on Saturday.
“Well, they don’t give up,” Sanders said about what his team showed him over the weekend. “We had some games where it was hard to stay focused because, how do I say this nicely, the talent wasn’t there on the other team, so you got to stay focused, not swing at bad pitches. They did that, they’re playing hard.
“We’re trying to teach them you start the game and finish the game strong. No matter what the score is, you play all seven innings. We’re a young team. They did it. They listen. They’re doing what I’m asking.”
West exploded for seven runs in the first two innings against Sentinel, including five in the second inning as it sent 10 batters to the plate. The Golden Bears added three more runs in the fourth inning to take a 10-3 lead, tallying six singles in the frame.
West pitcher Kinzee Koch gave up four earned runs and struck out eight in the complete-game victory. After her team gifted her a seven-run lead, the Spartans never got closer than 10-5 on Hardy’s two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“They’re a very good team,” Sanders said of Sentinel. “In my opinion, I think they’re the top team on this side of the state. Definitely the best in Missoula, but I think they’re going to be the best team this side of the state out of the Western AA based on my opinion and what other coaches who have played the Helena teams said. I think they’ll be right up there. They’re well coached and have good ball players.”