MISSOULA — Sentinel softball players Shelby Dunwell and Cassidy Schweitzer didn’t know the Spartans could clinch the Missoula city title heading into Wednesday’s game against Hellgate.
But their play at the Rattlesnake Fields spoke volumes as they chased the win nonetheless.
Dunwell and the rest of the young-but-improving pitching staff combined for their first complete-game shutout while Schweitzer collected three of Sentinel’s six hits in a 10-0 victory that gave the Spartans the city title for a third consecutive season.
“We don’t talk about winning a divisional championship, let alone a city championship,” Sentinel head coach Dustin Delridge said after his team improved to 8-2 overall and 5-0 in the Western AA but has yet to play the Helena schools in conference action.
“We really stress playing the game the same way, whether it’s against a hot team or one that’s not. We’re certainly excited any time we can get a win over Hellgate or Big Sky — or anyone for that matter.”
Dunwell, a junior and first-year varsity starting pitcher, limited Hellgate to five hits, pitching the first three innings of the game and the final two innings. She showed the work she’s put in on her accuracy when she struck out six batters, including five in a row across the first two innings.
Sentinel hadn’t played in six days, so Dunwell was anxious to get back on the field. Meanwhile, Hellgate was coming off a 21-6 win over Big Sky on Tuesday, but Dunwell didn’t fret.
“I wasn’t stressed about facing them, but I didn’t look over them,” Dunwell said. “I’m more confident in our girls because I’ve been able to play with them more since the beginning of the season. I was confident in them before, but now I’ve seen them play.”
Sentinel relief pitcher Amy Taylor, a freshman, retired all six batters she faced across the fourth and fifth innings. She struck out three hitters and didn’t allow a baserunner.
For the Spartans, who came into the season with an entirely new pitching staff, it was their first time throwing a shutout in a seven-inning game this season. They allowed just five hits and didn’t walk or hit a batter in 26 plate appearances.
“We’re more tuned in for sure,” said Delridge, whose team has beaten Hellgate twice and Big Sky once by a combined score of 38-1.
“Our pitchers have been working hard at getting ahead, hitting their spots. It’s come with time on the mound. We’re trusting our defense. Our defense is solid. They know that, so that gives them more confidence to work with.”
Schweitzer, a freshman, was one of the few Spartans who solved Hellgate senior pitcher Haleigh Irwin-Green, going 3 for 4 at the plate with two RBIs and one run scored. Her RBI single in the third inning gave Sentinel a 6-0 lead, and her RBI single in the seventh made it 10-0.
“The ones I hit were mostly down the middle,” Schweitzer said. “Some of them were low, which I’ve been trying to work on just because I’ve been chasing low ones that are bad ones a lot.”
Irwin-Green limited Sentinel to six hits, two of which were infield hits, across 37 plate appearances. She allowed 10 runs, but only two of them were earned runs because of nine fielding errors, including three she committed herself.
Irwin-Green pitched all seven innings, marking the second time in as many days that she pitched every inning of the game for Hellgate.
“I was super impressed with her,” Delridge said. “She kept us off balance. We didn’t hit too many balls out of the infield. Their defense made some costly errors behind her, but I was super impressed with her pitches.”
Hellgate managed five baserunners, all on singles, against the Spartans’ pitchers. Only three baserunners reached second base, and none of them advanced to third base.
Freshman Keke Davis tallied two hits to pace the Knights, who dropped to 1-7 overall and 1-3 in the Western AA.
“Their pitchers had us off balance the whole game,” Hellgate head coach Brad Shaffer said. “They located the ball well. It looked like they were changing speeds just enough. Our hitters were just pretty much off balance, and we never got comfortable.”