A look at what might have happened at this year’s state softball tournaments, which were scheduled to run Thursday through Saturday but were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic:
Class AA: Great Falls Bison
Class A: Belgrade Panthers
Class B/C: Huntley Project Red Devils
What might have been in 2020 ...
With most of the roster returning, including Gatorade player of the year Anna Toon, teams might have been hard-pressed to stop the hard-charging Bison, who would have been going for their third consecutive state title. Toon, a would-be senior who is headed to the University of Montana, was 15-2 with a 1.75 ERA. She threw three shutouts at the state tournament. Not only was she dominating in the circle, but she also batted .500, hit eight home runs and drove in 38 runs. Maybe Billings Senior, which had a strong postseason run and returned most of its roster that made the championship game and defeated the Bison earlier at state, would have put up a roadblock. Third-place Billings West was returning a good core, and Kalispell Glacier's 17-5 and Missoula Sentinel's 13-8 teams had young rosters last season. That said, it would have been captivating to see how Class A powerhouse Belgrade would have fared in its first season at the AA level. Could the Panthers, winners of the last three A championships, given the Bison a run?
For the first time in a while, the classification might have had some intrigue. Belgrade won championships in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but with the Panthers’ move to the Class AA level for the 2019-20 school year, a new champion was guaranteed. Would the title have reverted back to Frenchtown, which, before Belgrade’s run, owned the Class A ranks? The Broncs ruled from 2013-2016. Perhaps Polson? The Pirates were champions three years running before that, from 2010-2012. Or, possibly a team from the East could have risen up and given that part of the state its first champion since Laurel in 2006.
It’d been a steady climb to the top of the B/C mountain for Huntley Project. The Red Devils had finished second in both 2016 (to Conrad-Choteau) and 2018 (to Florence-Carlton) before finally reaching the summit with a win over Florence-Carlton in the title game last season. The Red Devils would have been poised to make a solid run at a repeat: Pitcher Addy Hultgren (22-1, 1.98 ERA, 214 strikeouts in 120 innings) was returning, backed up by an offense that batted .472 as a team and averaged better than 11 runs per game. Though Florence-Carlton graduated several key seniors and coach Rob Ralls retired, the Falcons have won five of the last eight state championships. Throw in other hopefuls Missoula Loyola, Plains-Hot Springs, Manhattan and Colstrip, and a second title for the Red Devils, if it happened, would have been well-earned.