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A tradition of excellence: Lady Pirates finish state tournament strong

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The weather in Belgrade wasn’t too bad on Thursday, with a sprinkling of rain and wind and on Friday, despite wind, the skies were blue and the temperatures were in the 50s. Yet temperature really didn’t matter to the Polson Lady Pirates softball team, who traveled to Belgrade to play some ball at the Montana High School Association Class A State Softball Tournament. 

With a 22-1 record, the Lady Pirates rolled over Butte Central in their first tournament game with a decisive 11-0 win in five innings. Next in their sights were the Frenchtown Lady Broncs on Friday afternoon. The Frenchtown girls prevailed, with a 5-0 win over Polson, after two losses to the Lady Pirates over the regular season.

Although that put the Lady Pirates in the loser’s bracket, they kept their hopes alive by  beating the Belgrade Panthers in a loser-out game 5-3. Polson also mowed down Hamilton 13-2 and beat Columbia Falls 4-2, leaving C. Falls in third place and sending the Lady Pirates into the championship game against the Frenchtown Lady Broncs. That game went 8 innings and ended with Frenchtown winning in a squeaker 2-1.  

Polson head coach Larry Smith said Frenchtown is the top competition at the state tourney. 

“The Lady Broncs have extremely good pitching, probably the best in the state, and then they can hit the ball,” Smith said.

But the Polson girls have experience, depth and a history of winning going for them.

The 2013 Lady Pirate team is a well-balanced group of girls, Smith said. He can pull one or two players off the bench, and they are ready to go. 

Shalaina Duford, Heidi Rausch, Jordan Evertz and Martina Marquardt are all seniors, and Smith described them as very talented, experienced players, who have all played on a championship team and are the team leaders.

“They’ve all stepped up as leaders and are very positive thinking girls,” Smith said.

Duford has been starting pitcher all four years of her high school career, and she’s played on three state championship teams.

“We had the game (this year’s state championship) won and then we made two errors,” Duford noted. 

Softball is her favorite sport, and she’ll continue on to college ball with a full-tuition scholarship at Spokane Community College.  

She said the senior girls “shake off everything that happens and yell ourselves to motivate the other girls and get after them if they don’t yell.”

“Larry Smith is the best coach I will probably ever have. He’s got the best approach to coaching. He doesn’t get angry and is always calm,” Duford said. 

Another Smith fan, Rausch plays center field for the Lady Pirates and overall she had a pretty good state tournament, including one home run. 

Rausch said in the dugout the senior girls encourage the other girls to get loud and stay positive. They all push softball as a team game.

Duford, Evertz, Marquardt and Rausch have made the freshmen feel welcome, too, Smith explained. That’s important since the Lady Pirates start freshman Hannah Potter. 

“I’ve been fortunate over the years,” Smith remembered. “I’ve had the best (students).”

One reason for the stream of talented softball players is the American Softball Association competitive summer programs for younger girls. By the time they reach high school, these girls already know softball basics, have played extensively and can go into the more complex parts of the game, according to Smith.

He’s had other coaches approach him and ask how he gets his team to dive for balls and slide into bases. It’s part of the game, Smith said, the girls know that and know if they want to play, that’s what they need to do.

“If you make it fun for them down there (when they are playing ASA ball), they’ll want to continue,” he added. “They (the girls) play it tough.”

Smith has two assistant coaches, Don Toth and Anna Henderson. With Toth’s four years in the Polson program and Henderson’s experience playing high school and college softball, they add pieces to the Pirate team. Smith is in his 26th year of coaching.

He began coaching when his daughter Robin, then a fifth grader, and her friends returned from a game in Ronan. Their team had received a shellacking, and they said, “We need some help. Could you help us?”

So Smith taught them and began coaching at Polson High School in 1988. He coached Robin as a sophomore, junior and senior. 

Smith had never heard of fast pitch softball until he was introduced to the game while attending Northern Montana College, Havre. Friends of his were starting a team and asked him to play. 

“I really fell for it. It (fast pitch softball) is faster and more entertaining than regular baseball,” Smith said.

Especially when it’s the Lady Pirates playing ball.


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