BOZEMAN — Nearly two decades have passed since Bozeman High last made it to the Class AA state softball tournament.
That drought ended last week with a win over Bozeman Gallatin that earned the Hawks the sixth and final qualifying seed from the Eastern AA.
“Just a bunch of joy,” senior Tailyn Black said of the feeling after that final out. “We were so happy. It feels really good to qualify for state. Not going in 19 years, we were all thrilled we were able to do that this season.”
Bozeman went just 3-15 during the regular season, but first-year head coach Jill Brown said the team’s effort has never wavered.
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“I still see them wanting to push through even after tough losses, (showing) the resiliency to come back and fight,” Brown said. “They’re super excited, and now we can just lay it all out there. Hopefully we’ll surprise some people.”
Bozeman will open the state tournament at 11 a.m. Thursday against West No. 3 seed Missoula Sentinel (13-6) in Helena.
“They’re going to be a tough team,” Brown said, “but if we play our team defense and have our bats be there, I think we’ll be good.”
Bozeman’s softball season has followed a somewhat similar arc as its girls basketball team, which won only three regular season games this winter before winning twice at the divisional to qualify for state. In doing so, both sets of Hawks caught other teams off guard and proved how much can be accomplished by always having belief.
Bozeman softball reached the state tournament for the first time since 2004.
“I think it’s the underdog story,” said Black, who was also on the basketball team. “Just like basketball, this softball team has the potential to go far at state, and I definitely feel like we can prove a lot of people wrong.”
Now is the time of year when preparing for games gets a little more intense.
“We’re just really pushing each other hard in practice,” Black said, “going through the drills and making sure that everything is the best it can be.”
Black’s mother Amanda is an assistant coach and was a member of the 1997 Bozeman softball team, the only one in the school’s history to reach the state title game (a 5-0 loss to Great Falls CMR), according to MHSA records.
“She’s super thrilled,” Tailyn said. “She’s really enjoying the moments and being able to coach all these girls.”
The wins may not have always come this season for the Hawks, but it feels gratifying to have done enough to accomplish their goal of making it to state.
“I think a lot of people were surprised, but I always knew that this team had talent and that we were going to make it there,” senior Lulia Paea said.
Reaching this point has been particularly exciting for Paea, who missed her entire junior season after having shoulder surgery.
“I was pretty sad last year not playing, so it’s a really good feeling to be back again,” she said.
Paea will play softball going forward at Williston (N.D.) State College, but it’s special to reach state at least once.
“It’s very meaningful. I’m really glad I get to end my high school career on a high note,” she said. “I’m pretty excited. I wouldn’t want to do it with any other team.”
Paea leads Bozeman in hits (29), runs (23) and on-base percentage (.556) this season, and her batting average (.509) is second. She and Black are two of the team’s four seniors. The others are Anna Toth and Lili Brown, Jill’s daughter. Black has 25 hits this season, including a team-leading two triples, to go with 20 runs scored and 14 RBIs. Lili Brown has 10 hits and eight runs scored. Toth leads the team in innings pitched (57⅓) and strikeouts (26).
Collectively, they are anxiously anticipating their first trip to the postseason.
“They’re excited, and they deserve it,” Jill Brown said.
The season has been a trying one at times, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a fun ending.