HELENA — One of the parents joked with Carroll College softball coach Aaron Jackson, asking how many miles he thinks his team has traveled this season.
“It’s approximately 5,649 miles,” Jackson said confidently.
If only he could cash those miles in for a free trip.
With the combination of Cascade Collegiate Conference road games and inclement weather, the Saints have been forced to play their entire season away from Helena.
Previously scheduled home games were moved to neutral sites to places such as the College of Idaho and the University of Montana due to some late February and March snowfall.
So when the Saints took the field Friday at Northwest Park against Cascade rival Northwest Christian, they were finally in a comfortable position.
“It’s just great for our fans to see us play,” Jackson said. “We have such great support from the community that it’s a real advantage to us when we get back home.”
The Saints swept the Beacons in a doubleheader 4-1 and 5-2, creating quite a turnaround from just a month ago.
Two weeks ago, Carroll (14-16, 7-10) was sitting near the bottom of the Cascade with just two conference wins.
“I think the combination of being on the road and playing some of the top teams in the conference makes it really difficult,” Jackson said. “The good thing is that we can fight through some adversity and now it’s an old hat for us.”
Carroll started the conference season on the road against No. 16 Corban, and then a scheduled home series against No. 3 Southern Oregon was moved from Helena to the College of Idaho.
Add another long drive to play No. 9 Oregon Tech, and the tough three-week stretch wasn’t favorable. The Saints came away with just one win in 12 games.
But Jackson isn’t worried about the outcome. He used the adversity to create his team’s slogan.
“We play anytime, anywhere,” Jackson said. “We learned a lot about each other and we grew closer together as a team.”
Junior pitcher Ali Williams arrived at Carroll two years ago without any concerns about battling the adversity of playing softball in Montana weather.
She grew up in Kalispell and dealt with some frigid weather while playing for Glacier High.
“There was one game against Helena Capital and there was a full white-out blizzard,” Williams said. “It was coming in, but we were trying to get the games in. Ultimately, they stopped the game because you couldn’t see anything.”
Now as a leader both on and off the field, she knows how important it is to keep her teammates morale high. Indoor batting practice and long bus rides to find a playable field are just part of the experience.
“We told them going into this season that it looks like it was going to be another one of those winters, so play like you would at home,” Williams said. “I think they have done a really good job of stepping up.”
The long bus rides and extreme temperatures are pretty much behind Carroll. The Saints have one more against Northwest Christian on Saturday and close out the remaining season with two out of their last three series in Montana.
“When you get the opportunity to play at home, it makes those opportunities that much better for everyone. It’s something that they will cherish where they get to play,” Jackson said. “It’s not about where we get to play, it’s about missing out on our fans. When we come home the bleachers are packed and Centennial Park can be rocking. It’s a great venue to play the game of softball.”
Jackson hopes the team can return to Centennial Park for the team’s final homestead on April 19 against the University of British Columbia, but that all depends on whether or not anymore storms head in and prevent the outfield from drying out.