Strong start for Rangers at state tournament

 

The Park Rangers opened the Class A state softball tournament with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Anaconda Copperheads, winning 5-4 after trailing 4-1 entering the seventh inning. 

“Anytime any team is coming back like that and it is a close ballgame, it’s always very exciting,” said head coach Jamie Isaly. “Excitement in the dugout was huge. That’s why we play the game. Softball is never over until it’s over. Those moments make it worth it for everyone involved.”

The bottom of the seventh started with an infield single by Ranger Meghan Gibson. After a Jacey Schleicher walk, both runners advanced on a passed ball.

With runners on second and third, Cassie Versland knocked in both runners with a single and advanced to second on an errant throw home. Meadow Ingram scored Versland on an RBI-single to tie the game, setting up the biggest at-bat of the game for Versland’s older sister, Hailey Versland. 

Hailey won the game with an RBI-double, sending Park into the second round of the state tournament. 

“Hailey being a senior and being a starter for quite a few years has oftentimes been in these situations,” said Isaly. “She’s been a great clutch hitter for us. She swings the bat, and usually good things happen. She also had a strong divisional tournament. She’s been one of our more consistent at-bats.

“In certain games, just getting on base becomes pretty difficult. If you look at the state scores, you’re looking at games that are 5-4, 3-2. Pitching gets better. Defense gets better, and Hailey has done a pretty good job getting on base for us.”

The big win over Anaconda, Park moved on to face the Billings Central Rams in their second game of the day. It was pitchers’ duel throughout, with Billings Central prevailing 1-0.

The only run of the game was scored by the Rams in the second inning. A leadoff hit, sacrifice bunt and ground ball out gave Billings Central a runner on third with two outs. A passed ball allowed the runner to score, proving to be the difference in the game.

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. It can change on one ball,” explained Isaly. “It shows the importance of getting the leadoff runner on in an inning and how important bunting her over can be.”

Park pitcher Sierra Higgs, pitching her second game of the day, had a great performance, allowing only three hits in the loss.

“Sierra has generally pitched great,” Isaly said. “It was her second game of the day, and she was really strong. Billings has the reputation of a strong hitting team. She hit her spots. She had a terrific couple of games, in my eyes.”

This is Park’s third consecutive appearance in the state tournament and fourth overall. The Rangers continue play Friday morning at 9 a.m. against Laurel, the team that beat them in the first round of last year’s state tournament. A loss means the end of Park’s state tournament, but a win moves them into a second game at 3 p.m., and a second win means a third game at 5 p.m.

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Thomas Watson may be reached at twatson@livent.net.