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Lady Pirates go 4-1 at preview of next week’s state softball tournament

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Three days, five softball games. It was the ultimate road test for the Lady Pirates softball team, one that gave the Polson squad a peek at what the state tournament will look like. 

And with the exception of a narrow 2-0 loss on Friday and a few too many errors, the Lady Pirates earned themselves fairly high marks.

As the Northwestern A conference champ, Polson knows it will go to next week’s state championship tournament in Billings. But the Lady Pirates looked forward to getting to play some of the competition from the eastern and central conferences at last week’s Laverne Combo softball tournament in Butte. 

Polson arranged a non-conference game against Butte Central on Thursday, beating the Maroons 5-2, then dove into four tournament games on Friday and Saturday. 

Polson opened the tournament with a close 2-0 loss to Central A champ Belgrade, then won a hard-fought 4-3 win over Eastern A runner-up Laurel. On Saturday, Polson blew by Glendive 9-0, then rustled Miles City 11-7 with a heavily substituted lineup that gave Polson’s bench lots of opportunity to play.

The Lady Pirates also battled through a flu-like bug that hit about half the team, including head coach Larry Smith. 

“We had several who were very sick. I admire their heart, though. There was only one who gave in to the illness and the rest toughed it out,” Polson head coach Larry Smith said. “It was a little tough on me, too. But the timing was probably good to get it out of the way before when state rolls around.”

Polson opened the weekend with a solid performance against Butte Central Thursday evening. Shay Duford scattered six hits over seven innings and earned seven strikeouts with four walks. Two of those walks, including a leadoff walk, proved costly in the second inning, paired up with a couple singles that produced Butte Central’s two runs. 

“The lead off walk is almost an automatic score in our game,” Smith noted. “But after that Shay settled down. The most hits she gave up in each of the following innings was one and she went one-two-three in the final two innings. She had control of her pitches and we didn’t allow them to hit to the outfield the way they did when they beat us in Frenchtown. Staci had seven ground-outs, so Shay had good control and kept it in the infield. There was only one fly ball to the outfield.”

So with the defense firmly in control the rest of the game, Polson’s offense got a big jump-start from speedster Kodi Woods, who ran out an inside-the-park home run. Her three-run shot went all the way to the centerfield fence and while the defense fielded and relayed the throw in cleanly Woods literally flew around the bases to beat out the throw home.

Woods knocked in Ashley Johnson and Staci Benson, who both got on by singles. Johnson was quick to scored, but Benson had to hold up on second to make sure the Maroons didn’t field Woods hit. That gave Woods enough time to catch up with Benson, who is no slouch running the bases either. 

“That was a legit home run,” coach Smith emphasized. “When she rounded second I knew I was going to send her (home). But when she hit third she was going so fast she had to make a wide swing around the corner and I figured it would be close. But she was motorin’. She was right up Staci’s backside, too.”

Shay Duford knocked in two insurance runs in the top of the seventh to close out the scoring for Polson’s 5-2 win. Polson finished the game with 11 hits and no errors.

On Friday morning, Polson opened the tournament with a tough battle against Belgrade, which has one of the premiere pitchers in the state — Lauren Torres. Torres only allowed five hits, but young Shay Duford held her own on the mound for Polson. 

“Shay only gave up four hits. She had one strikeout and no walks,” Smith explained. “They hit the ball hard, but our defense made some nice plays. Despite the errors, I thought the defense was quite sound and made some great plays.”

The Lady Pirates made three costly errors, which helped produce the two runs. The first was a bad throw from the outfield, which allowed a runner to score from third in the first inning. Two more errors combined to put a runner in scoring position in the fifth, who scored on a sacrifice fly.

The game was called after six innings due to time limits, but the Lady Pirates learned a lot from the loss.

“Torres pitched very well and our kids were tentative at first. She’s very hitable but our girls were swinging at that first pitch. And after getting that first strike she can keep the ball out of the strike zone and got us swinging at some pretty bad balls,” Smith said. “Our leader, Staci (Benson), did very well. She got two hits and got on a third time with an error by the first-baseman. Even then she made good contact on the ball. She showed you can definitely hit Torres.”

The Lady Pirates rebounded in the afternoon with a solid 4-3 win over Laurel. Trailing 3-2 in the sixth inning, Woods slapped a liner over second base to get on. Riley Kenney followed two batters later with a hard line drive up the middle to score Woods and tie the game 3-3. 

Then with two outs Heidi Rausch flexed her muscles with another power shot to centerfield to score Kenney, giving Polson a 4-3 lead. The Lady Pirates’ defense closed out the game with two fly-outs and a ground out to second-baseman Kylie Knutson to sew up the win.

“That was another very well-played game,” Smith said. “Shay had four strikeouts and only one walk and scattered her seven hits out well enough to only allow three runs. They are a very sound, very good hitting team. This was the game I made some adjustments both offensively and defensively and I think it paid dividends for us.” 

Smith moved Shay Duford up into five spot to bat after Kenney and he put Knutson at second and Rausch onto the field.

“Heidi did well defensively and offensively. She also ran the bases well, including stealing third with Kylie Knutson right behind her (in the third inning). That’s when Staci (Benson) got her big double and scored them both,” Smith explained. 

On Saturday, Polson scored seven runs in the first inning and cruised past Glendive 7-0. The Lady Pirates had seven hits, including a left-handed home run by Kayla Duford.

“Kayla was just making a comment at the motel that she wasn’t going to get a chance to hit a home run this year because she was batting left-handed. But I told her if she hit it on the nose it would go out. And it did,” coach Smith said. “That got us going ... everybody started hittin’. Riley was standing in the batter’s box after Kayla hit hers and turned around and asked me ‘How do I follow that up?’ And she almost did. She smacked a double that hit the fence on the fly. And when she stopped at second I told her ‘That’s how you follow it up.’”

Freshmen Shay Duford and Tina Marquardt teamed up to pitch a one-hitter. Duford had four strikeouts and three walks, while Marquardt had two strikeouts and three walks.

“It was a good experience for (Marquardt) ... You gotta have that second pitcher,” Smith said. 

Polson closed out the tournament with an 11-7 win over Miles City. The Lady Pirates put together 14 hits, led by home runs from Shay Duford in the second inning that sparked a six-run rally and Makaliah Wilson’s solo shot in the fourth.

“The home runs were great. We need to hit the ball like that. Shay’s was dead center and a line shot. She hit it well out,” coach Smith explained. “Makaliah’s was left-center field ... It had a lot of air under it, but it went out. She has a swing that if she connects she can send it a long ways.” 

Benson hit 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, while Woods went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, Kayla Duford hit 2-for-4 and Kenney went 2-for-3. Rausch also hit 2-for-2.

Rausch pitched a little bit in the fifth inning, but Miles City jumped on her quickly, so Smith brought Shay Duford back in, closing out the seven-hitter.

“Everybody, including them, was putting the bat on the ball. We only had four strikeouts and four walks. Heidi gave up a three-run home run ... she really struggled there,” Smith said.

But it was a good week of softball for the Lady Pirates, who look forward to another shot at playing Belgrade at the state tournament.

“We’re anxiously looking forward to playing Belgrade again. We know we can beat them ... the leaders on our team knew they let one slip away ... and we know we can hit their pitcher,” Smith said.

He was also proud of how his team battled through the bug in Butte.

“The cold hit Staci pretty heavy, but she had a whale of a performance all weekend. She and Kodi (Woods) and Kayla and Shay (Duford) did very well,” Smith said. “The player who really did the best all week was Kylie Knutson. She stole two bases for us and ran the bases hard and well, and played well on both offense and defense. She’s very fast and very aggressive. And I think she’s finally believing in her left-handed swing and hitting the ball very solidly.”

The 14-4 Polson team will close out the regular season this week with three conference games. On Tuesday the Lady Pirates played in Ronan and will host Columbia Falls on Thursday, followed by a road trip to Libby on Friday to finish out the regular season.

Regardless of the outcome of this week’s games, Polson earned a number one seed and first round bye in next week’s Class A state softball tournament, to be hosted by Eastern A champion Billings Central May 27-29.



Polson 5, Butte Central 2
Polson 000 030 2–5 11 0
Butte C. 020 000 0–2 6 1

Shay Duford and Kayla Duford. Quinn Peoples and Hannah Stajcar. W - S. Duford (11-3). L - Peoples (5-6).

POLSON - Staci Benson 2-4, Kodi Woods 1-4, Kayla Duford 1-3, Riley Kenney 2-4, Sallie Sams 0-2, Shay Duford 1-3, Makaliah Wilson 1-4, Tina Marquardt 0-2, Ashley Johnson 1-3, Kylie Knutson 1-1.

BUTTE CENTRAL - Angela Piazzola 0-3, Taylor Svejkovsky 0-4, Jessie LeProwse 2-4, Quinn Peoples 0-3, Hannah Stajcar 0-1, Katie Hogart 1-3, McKenzie Doherty 1-2, Carlee Norbeck 1-3, Danika Newman 1-3.

HR - Woods. RBIs - Woods 3, S. Duford 2; Norbeck, Newman.


Laverne Combo Softball Tournament
May 14-15, 2010

Belgrade 2, Polson 0
Polson 000 000–0 5 3
Belgrade 100 01x–2 4 2

Shay Duford and Kayla Duford. Lauren Torres and Melissa Bell. W - Torres (16-1). L - S. Duford (11-4).

POLSON - Staci Benson 2-3, Kodi Woods 0-2, Kayla Duford 0-2, Riley Kenney 0-2, Sallie Sams 0-3, Shay Duford 1-3, Makaliah Wilson 1-3, Kylie Knutson 1-3, Colleen Jacobson 0-3.

BELGRADE - Justine Taylor 2-2, Melissa Bell 0-3, Ali Cygan 1-3, Kasey West 1-3, Kassi Kallestad 0-3, Lauren Torres 0-2, Ashley Luly 0-2, Ali Dorvall 0-2, Ali Morgan 0-2.

2B - Cygan. RBIs - West 2.


Polson 4, Laurel 3
Laurel 002 010 0–3 7 2
Polson 002 002 x–4 6 1

Sara Parks and Jesse Engen. Shay Duford and Kayla Duford. W - S. Duford (12-4). L - Parks.

LAUREL - Olivia Heidinger 2-4, Kelcie Wood 1-4, Maddie Cebuhar 1-4, Sara Parks 1-4, Keilah Ahman 0-3, Jesse Engen 0-3, Becca Schultz 1-3, Katie Witschen 0-3, Tarar Russell 1-3.

POLSON - Staci Benson 1-1, Kodi Woods 1-3, Kayla Duford 0-2, Riley Kenney 1-3, Shay Duford 0-3, Makaliah Wilson 1-3, Heidi Rausch 1-3, Kylie Knutson 0-2, Ashley Johnson 1-2.

2B - Heidinger; Benson. RBIs - Parks 2; Benson 2, Kenney, Rausch.


Polson 9, Glendive 0
Glendive 000 00– 0 1 1
Polson 701 1x–9 8 1

Payton Schieffer and Allie Mittlestadt. Shay Duford, Tina Marquardt (4) and Kayla Duford. W - S. Duford (13-4). L - Schieffer.

GLENDIVE - Lana Hoagland 0-3, San Unruh 0-1, Lindsay Tenant 0-2, Kalli Cress 0-2, Allie Mittlestadt 0-1, Kassie Bowles 1-2, Mikka Wold 0-1, Payton Schieffer 0-2, Jordan Ulrich 0-1.

POLSON - Staci Benson 1-2, Kodi Woods 1-3, Kayla Duford 1-3, Riley Kenney 2-3, Shay Duford 1-3, Kylie Knutson 1-2, Makaliah Wilson 1-2, Heidi Rausch 1-2, Ashley Johnson 0-2, Sallie Sams 0-1, Tina Marquardt 0-1.

2B - Kenney, Wilson, Benson. HR - K. Duford. RBIs - (n/a)


Polson 11, Miles City 7
Miles City 001 330–7 7 0
Polson 163 10x–11 14 1

Taylor Jones and Shelby Ries. Shay Duford, Heidi Rausch (5), S. Duford (5) and Kayla Duford. W - S. Duford (14-4). L - Jones.

MILES CITY - Taylor Jones 1-3, Kylee Leidholt 1-3, Shelby Ries 0-2, Brittany Hirsch 2-3, Jena Stratton 0-3, Caitlin Shipp 1-3, Kimberle Scheid 1-3, Kandace Kiosse 1-3, Ariel Tallieur 0-1.

POLSON - Staci Benson 3-4, Kodi Woods 2-3, Kayla Duford 2-4, Riley Kenney 2-3, Shay Duford 1-3, Kylie Knutson 0-2, Tina Marquardt 0-1, Makaliah Wilson 1-2, Heidi Rausch 2-2, Ashley Johnson 1-2, Colleen Jacobson 0-1, Jordan Evertz 0-1, Sallie Sams 0-1.

2B - Hirsch, Stratton; Benson, Rausch. HR - Hirsch; S. Duford, Wilson. RBIs - Leidholt, Hirsch 3, Shipp, Kiosse; Benson 2, Woods 2, S. Duford 3, K. Duford, Wilson, Johnson.

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