MISSOULA — ZooTown’s Charlee Hoover wasn’t satisfied with her performance during the first day of the Senior League Softball West Regional.
The freshman-to-be at Sentinel had just dominated in the circle while playing through a hurt leg Friday, but instead of riding high, she talked with her coaches about how to improve her hitting.
It was a brief glimpse into Hoover’s competitiveness, something ZooTown will try to replace because she’ll miss Saturday’s doubleheader to attend a family wedding.
Before leaving, Hoover certainly made her impact felt, handcuffing Billings’ offense with a complete-game two-hitter in a 9-1 win. Because of that, ZooTown takes a 1-1 record into Saturday's games against Washington (0-2) at 9 a.m. and Southern California (2-0) at 12:30 p.m.
“I’m just feeling glad I’m playing. It’s really fun,” Hoover said. “I was definitely more nervous the first game. This game, the nerves were out, so that was good.”
Hoover retired the first 12 batters she faced and took a perfect game into the fifth inning before it was broken up by an error to open the frame. She carried a no-hitter until Billings got a two-out infield single in the sixth inning on a ball that slowed its roll halfway down the first base line and stayed fair. She even maintained the shutout until a two-out RBI single in the seventh.
Hoover’s performance was one that ZooTown coach Tim Gray thought could be possible in her first time pitching at the Senior League Softball West Regionals.
“Yeah, I kind of did,” Gray said. “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but she’s pretty good. She was focused. She was hitting her spots very, very well and was throwing with confidence. When we did call the changeup, it worked really well.”
Hoover employed a combination of her fastball and changeup to strike out 13 of the 24 batters she faced, including the first six. She caught four hitters looking.
Billings manager Jeff Childers had never seen the 14-year-old Hoover pitch until Friday, and he left impressed after day one of the 16-and-under tournament.
“She’s consistent and strong and has a lot of control,” Childers said. “When you put that to work and can do that over and over and over again, it’s difficult to catch on to. She’s talented for sure.”
ZooTown’s Ava McPhillips tallied a two-run single, Delaney Laird had an RBI single and Jadyn Gagner collected an RBI fielder’s choice. ZooTown scored three runs on errors and two on wild pitches.
Peyton Whitehead drove in Billings’ lone run.
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Iced by Hawaii
ZooTown had the chance to put up a 2-0 record on day one but struggled to drive in baserunners as it dropped its opener to defending regional champion Hawaii, 3-1.
The All-Stars stranded seven runners on base, including five in scoring position. Trailing 3-1 in the fifth inning, they loaded the bases with two outs, but a flyout to left field ended the inning.
ZooTown cut down on its strikeouts as the game went along but finished with seven, including five that were looking.
“Our bats were sluggish,” Gray said. “We’re still learning and gelling. Today, the bats just weren’t there."
Starting pitcher Kendra Jacobs limited Hawaii to five hits, compared to ZooTown’s six, and threw four shutout innings after giving up three runs in the first two innings. Hawaii scored on an RBI double, in a rundown between third base and home, and on a wild pitch.
Makennah Hewitt scored ZooTown’s lone run on a wild pitch for a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
“We’re getting better,” Hoover said. “I think we all work really well together. We only met a couple weeks ago. We’re having fun. We’re playing pretty well. We were really close in our first game.”
Billings finished the first day of pool play with a 0-2 record, losing 18-3 to Arizona in five innings before facing ZooTown.
Childers saw some encouraging signs from his admittedly young team.
“The defense looked good,” he said. “We’ve got to get our bats going. If we can do, we’ll be a lot more competitive. Both of our games have been unfortunately late going in which we start to put runs up and start to put people on base late. I think if we can get that started sooner, we’ll do well.”
Billings continues pool play on Saturday against Nevada (1-1) at 9 a.m. and Washington (0-2) at 12:30 p.m.