GREAT FALLS — Macey Newbary transferred away from Frenchtown at the beginning of this school year to get out from the long shadow cast by Morgan Ray and chart a new course at Missoula Big Sky.
Newbary, a sophomore, has proven to be an invaluable asset to the Eagles — and a real pain in the you-know-what for everyone else.
Newbary put on an MVP-type performance Thursday at the State AA softball tournament, racking up a combined 35 strikeouts in victories over Billings West and Billings Skyview to push Big Sky into the undefeated semifinal round, where it will face Great Falls CMR on Friday.
“She just moves the ball around so well, she just kept us off-guard,” said Skyview slugger Alyssa Baxter after Newbary struck out 20 Falcons in the quarterfinal round. “She throws pretty hard, and she throws it all over the place. We were swinging at some (pitches) that we probably shouldn’t have.”
It’s not like Newbary was much of a secret; the sophomore right-hander came into the weekend regarded as one of the top pitchers in AA. But this has to rank as one of the truly dominant first-day efforts by a pitcher at a state tournament.
Newbary opened with a four-hit shutout of West, perhaps the Eastern division’s most vaunted power-hitting team. She had 15 strikeouts in the 1-0 win, out-dueling the Bears’ Jalen Creech, who was no slouch in striking out 13.
“I got myself mentally ready,” Newbary said, who also noted that she “competed to (West’s) level. I know they’re a good team and they can definitely hit the ball. But when I know that, it just makes me work 10 times harder.”
After a couple hours rest Newbary came back and allowed only one hit to Skyview — a ground-rule double by Morgan McGraw in the third. On the strength of a three-run homer from Jamie Schafer in the fifth, Big Sky cruised, 7-0.
“She’s probably the best riseball pitcher I’ve seen,” said Skyview coach Sarah DeVore. “She has a great riseball. And she throws some heat when she needs to.”
At Frenchtown, which is the defending Class A state champion, Newbary was slotted to be the No. 2 pitcher behind Ray again this season. That’s nothing to be ashamed of — Ray is known as one of the state’s premier pitchers, and has already verbally committed to join the program at Ohio State.
But Newbary wasn’t inclined to play second fiddle again, so she made her way to Big Sky and helped change the Eagles’ fortune.
Her opening-game dominance of West was similar to an early-season meeting between the teams in Billings, when Newbary struck out 15 Bears as part of a 7-5 victory. In Friday’s rematch, she got a great bit of help from shortstop Morgan Johnson, who robbed Makenzie Shellnutt of a game-tying hit to end the fifth.
“That play itself took the momentum away from us,” said West coach Ed Kriskovich. “We had made some adjustments. The ball was hit perfectly, but (Johnson) made an outstanding play.”
Friday’s Big Sky-CMR semifinal expects to pit Newbary against Rustlers’ left-hander Quinn Hartman, who is also among the state’s best.
For West and Skyview, they’ll try to stay alive as long as they can on the tournament’s final day.
West stayed alive with a 6-4 elimination-game victory over Missoula Hellgate later Thursday. Maranda Ratcliff belted a two-run home run for the Bears in the first inning to set the tone. They’ll face Helena Capital on Friday morning.
Skyview, which beat Hellgate (the Western division’s No. 1 seed) 12-4 in the first round on the strength of three RBIs and a complete-game pitching performance from Baxter, will face Great Falls.