OPINA'S OPINION - AA State Softball Preview with Helena-Great Fa - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

OPINA'S OPINION - AA State Softball Preview with Helena-Great Falls Teams

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Things are about to get CRAZY in Great Falls!

The Electric City is about to host three (THREE!!!!) State Tournaments: Class AA Softball, Class B/C Softball and Class AA/C Track & Field. (Who put together the State Tournament schedules anyway???)

To preview for the AA Softball Tournament, I thought I’d put together an in-depth report on each of the teams in the Great Falls-Helena viewing area (Basically, the teams in my old sports beat and my new one).

Let’s start with the defending champs…

Great Falls High Bison

Overall Record: 15-6 (including playoffs)

AA Eastern Conference Record: 7-5

Number of State Titles: 1

Last State Title: 2013

Analysis: There is no hotter team than the Bison right now. They’ve won 11 straight games and 13 of their last 15 games. Despite their 2-5 start to the season, Great Falls is peaking at the right time.

It’s not just the offense that’s stepping up for the Bison: It’s their defense and timely hitting. Great Falls has only given up more than 4 runs ONCE during this 11 game winning streak (Billings Senior had 6 during the first playoff game. Bison responded by only allowing one run the next game to complete the sweep).

The Bison have gotten contributions from everywhere, particularly their middle infielders Brooklynn Wilson and Annie Douglas. Great Falls is not afraid of big moments, as evidenced by walk-off hits by Bailey Ferda and Bailey Durnell, who helped secure wins over CMR and Billings Senior.

Let’s not forget, they have the most dangerous hitter in the state: Mercedes Bourgeau, who has hit home runs into the street and people’s yards on multiple occasions. She's the only Bison in double figures in home runs (14 listed on Coach Coleman's stat-tracking website).

The Bison are clicking on all cylinders and it’s hard to imagine them not repeating.  Right now, it seems like the only team that can beat them is…..

CMR Rustlers

Overall Record: 16-2

AA Eastern Conference Record: 11-1

Number of State Titles: 7

Last State Title: 2012

Analysis: The Rustlers are a complete team. They have everything: Pitching, Hitting, Defense, and they are VERY well coached.

CMR proved two weeks ago that the power in AA Softball is in the East. They traveled to the Missoula schools and outscored Hellgate (1-seed), Big Sky (3-seed) and Sentinel 46-3.

Junior Pitcher Quinn Hartman is the heart, soul and MVP of this team. If she is on her game and hitting her spots, no one is going to score runs on her. I believe she is the best pitcher in all of Class AA.

Hartman has solid defense behind her made up mostly of seniors. There’s not one weakness in the CMR defense.

Hitting wise, it’s a pick-your-poison: their entire line-up can hit a home-run any time. They have a star-studded senior class, including Kaydee Parsons, Madi Mahoney, Kylie Otis and their two catchers Erika Lankford & Tiffany Lefebre. I believe their entire line-up should be all-state….but unfortunately, I don’t think Coach Lindsay Graham can nominate that many people.

I think only three teams can beat CMR: Great Falls, Billings West, and…….

Capital High Bruins

Overall Record: 17-5 (Includes Playoffs)

AA Western Conference Record: 9-3

Number of State Titles: 2

Last State Title: 2009

Capital’s Title Trend is that they’ve won a championship every five years (2004, 2009…uh-oh. It’s 2014!).

Don't let the Bruins 2nd-seed fool you. They were only 1/2 a game out of first place.

The Bruins are the dark horse team in the State Tournament. They have a strong infield and an all-conference pitcher in Brittany Smith (10-4, 2.48 ERA, 61K). She will probably get the start in their tournament opener and go against Great Falls High’s Mercedes Bourgeau.

Capital is a dangerous, DANGEROUS team. They had the 2nd longest winning streak (10) behind Great Falls (11 and counting). During that streak, they only allowed more than 3 runs ONCE (Belgrade…..they still won that game).

The Bruins are built on defense. If Capital can regain the form they had during that streak, they have a serious shot at winning the State title (don’t forget....it could be their year. Every five years….rememeber?).

Capital has a pair of .400 hitters with Sydney Ladas (.403, .481 OBP) and record-setter McKnezie Johnston (.430, 10HR, 26RBI), who seems to be good at any sports she plays (all-state in Basketball too).

Unfortunately for Capital, history is not in their favor. First of all they are in the "Group of Death" with CMR and Great Falls High. Not only are they both extremely good teams, but the Bruins are 0-4 versus the Bison and Rustlers in State Tournaments (since 2006).

BUT: If the "power of every five years" comes through (along with the heart and passion), the Bruins could very well be your 2014 state champions.

It should be noted: The Capital Bruins are master photobombers. If you haven’t seen our story on how mischievous they can be during interviews, click here

Final Analysis: It’s a shame that Capital, Great Falls and CMR are on the same side of the bracket (A sportscasters nightmare!!!). They’re easily 3 of the top 4 teams in the state (to go along with Billings West).

It’ll be tough for any team that loses to fight their way back to the title game. For some reason, the Class “AA” powers that be decided to make the tournament two days instead of three. So a team in the losers bracket would have to win five games in one day to claim the state title.

This is going to be a fun tournament. After missing the AA tournament last year, I'm definitely excited to be covering it this year.

Let's just hope Montana Weather doesn't decide to throw us a curve ball.
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