When divisional tournament time rolls around the first weekend of May, probably no one will want to face the Plains/Hot Springs softball team.
The co-op squad returns seven of nine starters to the diamond, and the veteran team includes four seniors and seven juniors.
Plains/Hot Springs is slated to open the season next Tuesday, April 9 with a doubleheader at Anaconda. The first game is set for 3 p.m. The home opener is two days later, on April 11, when Plains/Hot Springs hosts defending state C champion Florence-Carlton. The first game of the twin-bill starts at 1 p.m. On April 13, Plains/Hot Springs plays a pair at Deer Lodge.
Last year, Plains/Hot Springs finished third at the divisional tournament and lost its first two state tournament games.
MICHELLE BANGEN enters her third year as the head coach, and she has a good number of 15 players out for the squad.
Kassidy Kinzie, a senior this season, earned Class C all-state honors last season in the pitching position. Not tall in stature, Kinzie is an effective right-hand thrower. Other capable pitchers are junior Dakota Butcher and promising freshman Kelsey Vonheeder.
“Kelsey is going to help us out a lot,” Bangen said. “It’s nice to have some depth at the pitching position.”
Behind the plate calling signals will be either Natalee Deschamps or Kenzie Angle, both seniors. Bangen said they will be “used evenly.”
Other potential starters for Plains/Hot Springs are Sage Jackson, Butcher and Skylar Bergstrom on the infield. Kinzie plays shortstop when she is not pitching. Speedster Sydney Jackson anchors the outfield in center.
SYDNEY JACKSON sparks the offense as she is a “slap hitter” from the left side of the plate.
Plains/Hot Springs did not get into “true” practice mode until their first day outdoors, which was last Friday.
The Jacksons and manager Sam Carr are Hot Springs High School students; the other team members go to school in Plains.
“We have lots of depth at both infield and outfield,” Bangen said. “We definitely will have a lot of [different] lineups.”
The coach considers depth the biggest team strength. “We will have a strong defense,” Bangen said. “We should be strong all the way around … It’s going to come around to hitting.”
Florence-Carlton is the defending divisional champion. The Falcons along with Eureka, Mission/Charlo/Arlee and Plains/Hot Springs will be in the running for state tournament berths.
“Our division is going to be strong,” Bangen said.
The top five of the seven teams in the league qualify for the divisional tournament.
Bangen and the returning players recall when Plains/Hot Springs lost in extra innings in the Class C state tourney opener before bowing out in the consolation bracket.
“We definitely have the potential to be right there,” the coach said. “State tournament experience is always good.”