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Bravettes figure to make state tourneys a habit

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | March 31, 2024 12:00 AM

A solid nucleus from their first state tournament team in 16 seasons, plus a promising freshman class have the Flathead Bravettes thinking big this softball season.

Mackenzie Brandt, an all-Western AA pick as a sophomore when she hit .472, is back in the outfield — probably center field — for Flathead, and familiar names are up and down the lineup.

Ava Besson, who pitches and plays second base, is back, as is pitcher/outfielder Macey McIlhargey and shortstop/third baseman Kaiden Lake.

Lacie Franklin also pitched last season and played first, and Laynce Vessar held down the catcher’s position for the most part while Kinsey Lake split time between the outfield and first.

Also, Reese Conley played well at shortstop in limited action last year, hitting .440 with two homers; junior outfielder Sawyer VanCampen (.320) was solid a year ago.

While outfielder Brynn Mailman is out indefinitely with knee surgery, first-year head coach Brittany Williams — an assistant last season, when the Bravettes went 5-16 and made state for the first time since 2007 — figures help is on the way.

“We have a very talented group of freshmen, which we are excited about,” Williams said. “We have a solid group of returners which have a lot of experience, and postseason experience. Which previously we didn’t have.”

Thirteen freshmen are out overall, but these five will most likely figure into varsity games: Danica Hennell, Olivia Nyman,  Lily Anderson, Teagan Hayek and Tegan Strauss.

Nyman and Strauss both can catch. 

The pitching will be left to Besson, McIlhargey — who also hit .306 a year ago — and Franklin. Franklin had three wins last season.

“I’m thankful to have three very different pitchers I can go to,” Williams said. “I think we have a lot of flexibility, which is nice. We have a little more depth than we usually have, I’d say.”

The expansion to a 12-team tournament helped the Bravettes make state last season, but they had to do their part on the diamond. Now the stage is set to keep improving.

“I honestly think that’s the expectation,” Williams said. “They want to go and they want to compete. It’s not enough to just go again, they’d like to go and win some games at state. I think we have the talent and depth to make a run at doing that.

“We’re just really excited. We have a nice mix of returning plays and talented freshmen, and that’s exciting for a first-year coach.”

The Bravettes played in a jamboree at Polson last weekend; their season begins in earnest Tuesday with a game at Class A Libby.