Sunday, June 16, 2024

No rain on this parade

Staff Writer | June 2, 2024 12:00 AM

“Fire truck” is not the rally cry you’d expect, but for Columbia Falls softball it kept all eyes on the prize.

The Wildkats secured their second consecutive state championship on May 25 and — along with the trophy — they earned another fire truck ride through town to celebrate.

“All tournament, when anything would get stressful, we would say, ‘Well, do you want to ride the fire trucks or not,’ ” senior third baseman Haden Peters said.

It wasn’t easy for Columbia Falls to repeat as poor weather pushed the tournament to a condensed two-day format, which saw the Wildkats play four games on Saturday to claim the crown just before midnight.

“My arm was not that sore, it was mainly my legs,” senior pitcher Maddie Moultray said. “I’ve got a rubber arm apparently. I think the thing driving me was the adrenaline throughout all the games.”

Adrenaline got them through, but Moultray, Peters and senior catcher Demye Rensel noted that everyone on the team felt sore once they were on board the bus that night.

The three seniors made head coach Dave Kehr’s job easy. “They just led by example,” Kehr said. “They were on the bus, off the bus at the right time, warming up the younger kids and getting the equipment out and they just pushed through everything.

“It was not hard, most everyone could have done what I did with them.”

Everything included two days in Billings not knowing when play would start. The team practiced in Columbus on Wednesday as they made their way into town, but once the weather hit the girls had to balance focus and restlessness before they could take the fields once more.

“I feel like one of the biggest things that helped us was our team being so close,” Rensel said. “Our team, we really just clicked this season and we were able to hang out the whole time. We were in each other's hotel rooms, laughing, talking, and playing games.”

Team meals, a trip to sporting goods store Scheels — where the team rode the indoor ferris wheel — and a waterslide at the hotel gave a bit of reprieve.

Finally as Friday hit the team made their way to Stewart Park for the first game: a noon tilt with Ronan, which delivered one of the Wildkats’ three regular season losses. Following the 10-0 decision Columbia Falls met up with Laurel, who also defeated the Wildkats in the regular season. That result: a 16-0 victory.

“The first day the energy changed a lot,” Moultray said. “Going there we didn't really know what to expect. We knew we could beat these teams, but I don't think anyone expected us to mercy (rule) both teams.”

The victories set up a winners semifinal match up with Billings Central — who came into the day a perfect 24-0.

A four-run second inning put the Rams out in front and a three-run fifth made it 7-0. The Wildkats' response defined the season.

“As soon as that game got done, none of us were focused on a loss,” Rensel said. “We were strictly focused on that next game (against Polson).”

“You guys are better than this, we might lose but you guys are better than this,” Kehr said to his team.

The rebound was quick, scoring four runs in the first inning against Polson in the third-place game. Moultray shut down the Pirates’ late rally and Columbia Falls were back in the title game against Billings Central, needing two wins against the Rams.

Two big innings put the Wildkats out in front big and while up 14-3 in the fifth Kehr was able to take Moultray out of the circle for an inning. Peters finished out the inning to force a winner-takes-all championship game.

“The 10-run game against Billings was probably the key game for her arm,” Kehr said. “I saved three innings there, saved a couple innings against Laurel, and a couple innings against Ronan, that was huge.”

Even with the rest Moultray neared 400 pitches on the day with one game left.

In the final the seniors showed out on offense and defense. Peters went 4-for-5 at the plate, driving in three runs. Rensel added another hit while Moultray’s three-run homer in the sixth put the Wildkats out for good. She threw all seven innings in the circle.

Moultray forced a infield pop up for the final out in Columbia Falls’ 9-6 win.

“As soon as our second baseman caught that ball, I just chucked my mitt and helmet and used who knows what energy to sprint straight to Maddie,” Rensel said.

“I think we had more fun than any other team there,” Moultray said. “I was so emotional knowing I wouldn't play anymore with this team.”

The seniors now exit Columbia Falls with a pair of fire truck rides on their resume, after the first two softball championships in school history. Even though Kehr is only losing three seniors, he knows the hole they leave is one that is going to be tough to fill.

“No one will outwork Demye, she is the prototypical catcher. The one that is willing to do the dirty work and get down. She controls the infield and outfield,” Kehr said..

“Haden knows the game so, so well. I don't know if anyone coming back knows the game like Haden. Riding Maddie’s arm is not the most difficult thing to do.”