State tournament snapshots
Class AA softball
Pitcher Tristin Achenbach helped carry Conrad-Choteau to consecutive Class B/C state championships. Can she do the same for Great Falls CMR, now that she’s at the AA level? Perhaps. Achenbach has shown the jump of two classifications didn’t slow her roll as the University of Montana commit went 13-1 with a 0.29 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 96 innings in helping the Rustlers win the Eastern AA regular-season title. There are some challenges ahead. Senior scored a AA-best 188 runs, while Great Falls boasts the combination of a prolific offense (182 runs) with a standout – if overshadowed – pitcher in Erin Hocker (0.88 ERA). Helena Capital won the Western AA league title behind Shelby Martin (1.56 ERA) and that division’s top offense. Class AA hasn’t had a repeat champion in more than a decade. If CMR can repeat this weekend, the Rustlers will be the first back-to-back champions since Missoula Big Sky won the title in 2005 and 2006.
Class A softball
For the past decade you may as well have hung a sign at the Class A state tournament: Non-Northwest A teams need not apply. Since 2006, when Laurel claimed the championship, Polson (4 times) and Frenchtown (5 times) have won it all. Libby, now in Class B, was the 2008 state champion, so the title hardware has resided in the northwest for some time. Frenchtown, again, appears formidable at 18-1, but Belgrade also enters 18-1, boasting Shania Neubauer (11-1 in the circle) and an offense that has clubbed 33 home runs. The Eastern A has had its difficulties since Laurel’s 2006 title. Last year Eastern A teams were 2-6 at the tournament, so this year’s reps – Miles City, Glendive and Sidney – are looking to bring some recognition back to the league. In the end, they’ll likely have to go through Frenchtown or Belgrade to get it.
Class B/C softball
With the aforementioned Achenbach out of the picture, it’s opened up a whole new realm of possibilities within the classification. Achenbach decimated the B/C ranks her junior season to the tune of a 0.14 ERA and 338 strikeouts, and threw a perfect game against Huntley Project in last season’s state title game. The Red Devils (17-6) are seeking a return to prominence, even if they lean heavily on underclassmen. Glasgow (23-2) is a hard-hitting team – five girls are batting better than .500, and senior Khloe Krumwiede has hit 24 home runs, and counting, the past two seasons. Libby (20-6) won the Western Division in comeback fashion after losing to Florence (20-5) in the divisional’s undefeated semifinal game. Florence has built a good reputation the past few seasons, winning titles from 2012-14 before Conrad-Choteau’s recent run.
Class A tennis
The doubles competition might be where the boys’ team title is won or lost. Sixteen of the singles spots are filled by 12 schools, meaning several schools with multiple doubles teams will look to make ground there. Polson, with two singles players and three doubles teams, has the most qualifiers, followed by Dillon (4), Havre (3) and Billings Central (3). Central is looking to win its fifth consecutive championship, and to have a chance at that Simon Marshall will have to have a deep run in singles. A doubles champ last season, Marshall made the move to singles and, when healthy, has been unbeatable. Same with Hamilton’s Alex Raymond, whose lone loss is by injury default. The girls race appears to be even more balanced. Corvallis and Whitefish both have four qualifiers (two singles and two doubles teams), while Billings Central, Belgrade, Dillon, Hardin and Lewistown all have three.