MISSOULA — It's one thing to have a dominant pitcher who racks up strikeouts, which Mission-Arlee-Charlo has, but a softball team reaches another level when the hitters step up and back their pitcher up.
MAC has the benefit and privilege of having both.
The Bulldogs have two pitchers who see consistent time and have done solid damage between Liev Smith and Kooper Page in the circle. The two have a combined 7-1 record, 30 innings pitched, 11 runs allowed and 46 strikeouts.
Being able to hit against that level of pitcher in practice has helped the Bulldogs' bats find a groove and prepare hitters for at-bats against other top-level pitchers in Class B/C.
"We get to see a lot of live pitching at practice," Bulldogs skipper Shane Ruem said. "Coop is an amazing pitcher. It is tough to hit off her at practice. When she pitches to JV I tell her, 'Don't go wild, about 50%,' and she is so competitive she wants every strike. ... We are aggressive. We see, I think and I am biased to her, the best pitcher maybe in the state. We see her every day and she will fight tooth and nail for you."
The Bulldogs recorded 16 hits in a 13-0, five-inning win over Loyola Sacred Heart Thursday afternoon at Loyola's home field in the first game of a doubleheader. The hosting Breakers struggled to get much of anything going at the plate, and struggled to contain the Bulldogs' bats on the other.
That both ways dominance has put the Bulldogs in contention in the Class B/C at 14-3-1 overall — not counting the second game which was not final before publication.
From bunts dropped inches in front of the batters box, to deep shots to the outfield fence, the batters did a bit of everything against Loyola. The Bulldogs recorded two three-run homers off the bats of Jerny Crawford in the top of the third, her fourth home run of the season, and Izabel Evans, her fifth this year, in the top of the first to break the game open early.
"Knowing I have my team to help me out is big for me," Page said. "If I am having a bad day, they will be there to help me out and they just killed the ball today."
Crawford left the game with an injury after taking a line drive to her forearm in the top of the fourth. Ruem is hopeful she can make a recovery and not miss much time.
Page did her work in the circle with five scoreless innings as she recorded nine strikeouts and allowed five hits in a strong performance. As a team the Bulldogs have recorded nine shutouts.
Defensively the Bulldogs forced the Breakers to strand five runners on base — and all three times happened to be with two outs on the board and two of the three times Page ended it with strikeouts.
With the postseason looming, Ruem said he wants his team to take it one game at a time and not get too "big of heads" and not overlook teams. But, at the end of it for Ruem, he has a group he thinks that is pretty easy to coach.
"They are really easy to coach a monkey could do this," Ruem said. "They are so talented and it is such a gift to have this team."