FLORENCE — Florence is one step away from achieving its season-long goal.
The Falcons advanced to the State B-C softball championship game with a 12-5 win over Mission-Arlee-Charlo in the undefeated final on Friday in Florence. They’ll be trying to add an 11th state title to their collection, and they’ll get the chance to win one on their home field for the first time ever.
When the first pitch is thrown at 11 a.m. Saturday, Florence will be trying to accomplish the goal head coach Maurice Craun and the team set at the start of the year: be in the state championship game and win the title.
“We’ve been preparing for this all season,” he said. “We made it here, so I’m a happy guy.”
Florence still has yet to find out its opponent. Mission-Arlee-Charlo was sent into the loser-takes-third game and will have to beat Columbus-Absarokee-Park City at 9 a.m. Saturday to make it to the title contest. The winner of that game would then have to beat the Falcons twice to capture the crown because it’s a double-elimination tournament.
No matter who the Falcons play, they’re thrilled to be playing for the title — especially because they missed out on last season and they’re on their home field that many of their parents helped build during the 2018 season.
“It’s just an amazing feeling to be in the state chipper,” Florence junior catcher Kasidy Yeoman said. “Just knowing that I’m at home, I can sleep in my own bed and I can rely on all our fans to come out to support us and just knowing they’re here for us, it’ll be great.”
Craun’s message to the team will be straightforward.
“Just have fun and play hard,” he said. “Enjoy ourselves like we’ve been and we’ll be just fine.”
Florence 12, Mission-Arlee-Charlo 5
Florence’s first five batters of the game all reached base, and the rout was on as the Falcons cruised to a 12-5 win over Mission-Arlee-Charlo to advance to the state championship game.
The Falcons have racked up 33 runs through three games, scoring 12, nine and 12 runs in those games as no one has found the recipe to stop them.
“I think we’ve got an advantage of being here at home,” Craun said. “We play here. I also think we’re starting to play our best ball of the year now. We’re excited. We’re where we want to be.”
Leading the offense, Kasidy Yeoman went 3 for 3, drew an intentional walk, scored four runs and had one RBI. Her double to start the game began a three-run first inning, her solo home run in the second put Florence up 4-1, she came around to score on an intentional walk in a four-run fourth inning that pushed the lead to 8-2 and Yeoman led off with a single in a four-run sixth inning as Florence went ahead 12-3.
“We’re just seeing the ball well,” she said. “It’s all the time we put in, in the cages during practice. We’re able to size up the pitchers and then we’re set.”
Kolbi Wood led the team with three RBIs and hit a solo home run, while Jaidyn Larson tacked on two RBIs; they each scored three runs. Kylie Kovatch and McKenzie Little each drove in one run apiece.
Kovatch was strong in the circle for a third consecutive game at state. She struck out 11 batters in seven innings; three of the four runs MAC scored were unearned.
MAC didn’t have ace pitcher Kooper Page on the mound as she’s dealing with a shoulder strain, per coach Shane Reum, although she pitched in relief in the undefeated semifinal game earlier in the day.
“They got their bats on us early and we didn’t get ours’ going,” Reum said. “They got up on us and we just couldn’t recover from it.”
Columbus-Absarokee-Park City 11, Cut Bank-Valier 4, loser-takes-fourth
Columbus-Absarokee-Park City kept its state title hopes alive by beating Cut Bank-Valier, 11-4, in the loser-takes-fourth game. It was the third game of the day for both teams.
Columbus-Absarokee-Park City 13, Manhattan 6, second-round loser-out
Columbus Absarokee-Park City stayed alive in the loser-out bracket by scoring a 13-6 victory over Manhattan.
Cut Bank-Valier 7, Ennis 3, second-round loser-out
Cut Bank-Valier rode its strong pitching to a 7-3 win over Ennis in the loser-out bracket.
Freshman pitcher Makenna Burke struck out 14 batters over seven innings while allowing just four hits. Sienna Spotted Bear and Madi Weickum drove in two runs apiece for the Wolves.
Ennis, which scored all three of its runs in the sixth inning, was eliminated from the tournament with a 1-2 record. It was the Mustangs' first-ever trip to state, and they'll will lose only two seniors to graduation.
"It's our second year in existence, so just to get to state was a huge accomplishment," Ennis head coach Andy Thomas said. "Hopefully this builds some confidence and momentum for the program going forward."
Ennis 15, Huntley Project 9, first-round loser-out
Ennis knocked out defending state champion Huntley Project, 15-9, as it collected its first win at the state tournament in its inaugural trip after launching its program in 2019.
Ennis freshman Megan Knack hit for the cycle with a single, two doubles, a triple, a home run, two RBIs and five runs scored. Junior Addison Retherford collected a game-high three RBIs, while junior Payton Fortner drove in two.
The Mustangs turned a 4-2 deficit into a 10-4 lead by scoring three runs in the fourth inning and five in the fifth. After that, Huntley Project got no closer than four runs, 10-6.
Senior Ashley Wengler led the injury-depleted Red Devils with two RBIs. She and junior Rylie Wadman, who had one RBI, are the only two players on Huntley Project who started for the 2019 state championship squad.
"We had people step up, move around positions to cover for others, they put the team first, and I'm very proud of them for that," Huntley Project coach Tim Bastian said.
Manhattan 18, Shepherd 16, first-round loser-out
Manhattan eliminated Shepherd, 18-16, to collect its first-ever win at a state tournament after going 0-2 in its inaugural trip to state in 2019, the year they started their program.
Florence 9, Cut Bank-Valier 4, undefeated semifinal
Florence rallied for a 9-4 win over Cut Bank-Valier by scoring five runs in the top of the seventh inning to break a 4-4 tie after they had blown a 4-0 lead.
Kolbi Wood put the Falcons up 5-4 when she sent an RBI single to center field with one out. Kylie Kovatch followed with an RBI infield single, Mackenzie Little collected a two-run single and Rylee Yeoman added an RBI single. The Falcons had five of their eight hits against starting pitcher Makenna Burke that inning.
“I was thinking just make contact and put the ball in play,” Wood said. “We knew we had to start hitting, so we got ourselves excited like, ‘Oh, we can do this, we can win this.’ It feels really good to know that.”
The clutch hitting backed up Kovatch, who struck out 13 and allowed just seven hits over seven innings. Cut Bank’s Kinley Kovatch hit a solo home run off her in the fifth inning, Hannah Monroe added a two-run homer that inning and Monroe tacked on an RBI single in the sixth to tie the score at 4-4.
The Falcons had jumped up 4-0 with four runs in the second inning. Autumn Sutton roped an RBI single, Kasidy Yeoman clubbed a two-run triple and then scored on wild pitch, all with two outs.
"They’re starting to play together and trust each other," Florence coach Maurice Craun said. "Being able to get together at the end of the game and play like that, it’s good."
Mission-Arlee-Charlo 6, Columbus-Absarokee-Park City 5, undefeated semifinal
Mission-Arlee-Charlo scored a 6-5 win over Columbus-Absarokee-Park City in the other undefeated semifinal as sophomore Kooper Page broke a 5-5 tie with a pinch-hit solo home run to left-center field in the sixth inning.
MAC had jumped out to a 5-0 lead with three runs in the first inning and two in the second inning. Izzy Evans, Kate Young and Jerny Crawford all homered.
Columbus-Absarokee-Park City rallied with three runs in the third inning, one in the fourth and one in the fifth to tie the game. Rhied Johnson hit two home runs.
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at email@example.com.