West sweeps Bozeman to qualify for state

2014-05-22T19:26:00Z 2014-05-22T23:45:07Z West sweeps Bozeman to qualify for stateBy JOE KUSEK jkusek@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Ashley Davis stood at second base, waiting for directions.

The Billings West junior wasn’t sure if she should continue to circle the bases or if her initial journey would end there.

Moments earlier, her long fly ball glanced off a Bozeman player’s glove and bounced over the center field fence.

“I saw it happen,” said Davis. “At first, I thought she was going to catch it.”

Davis was eventually awarded a home run and waved around the bases.

“That put a smile on my face,” she said.

It was the first of Davis’ two home runs in the game and basically the only drama of the afternoon after the Bears swept the Hawks 7-2 and 13-3 in five innings in an Eastern AA best-of-three playoff series Thursday afternoon.

West (17-5) advances to next week’s Class AA state tournament in Great Falls for the 29th consecutive season. The Bears will be the No. 2 seed out of the Eastern AA. Bozeman finished the season 2-20.

West hit five home runs — four of them solo shots — in the opener. Also going yard were Rachael Dillon, Makenzie Shellnutt and Kendyl Boltz. Davis and Shellnutt hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning, Davis going to left field and Shellnutt to right field.

“When one person does it (homers), it pumps everybody up and everybody else wants one,” said Davis, who had a two-homer game against Billings Senior earlier this year. “We did a good job of keeping our heads down and concentrating on the ball when we were at bat.”

The home runs were more than enough to help starting pitcher Jalen Creech. The senior went the distance, striking out six and walking just one.

“I thought we hit pretty well,” said West coach Ed Kriskovich. “We finally hit a few home runs. We had 22 in our first five games at the start of the season then somebody turned off the tap. It was nice to see us swing the bats well again.”

It could have been worse, as the Bears stranded eight base runners in the first three innings.

“We’ve done that all season long,” said the veteran coach. “When we have runners on base, we’ve got to bring them home. It will be tougher at the state tournament to get away with that.”

The Bears belted two more homers in the second game, including a three-run home run by Erin Watterud. Brayden Flohr had the other.

Kriskovich went with a young lineup in the second game, with four sophomores and two freshmen among the starting nine.

“We got a chance to play a lot of young kids,” he said. “You want to give them an opportunity to play under pressure. If somebody gets hurt, like today, you want them ready for that situation.”

Kriskovich was forced to use senior Taylor Ostwald — usually a middle infielder — at first base after Meghan Dahlquist and Shellnutt suffered injuries within minutes of each other.

Dahlquist injured her hand when tagging out a Bozeman base runner. She could not bat and was replaced by Shellnutt. Not much later, Shellnutt had to be carried off the field after a teammate accidentally stepped on her ankle during infield warm-ups. The senior was taken to the hospital for X-rays and her status for the state tournament was still not determined.

Davis pitched the first three innings before giving way to Creech in the fourth after two Hawks reached base. The first Bozeman batter against her put down a sacrifice bunt but Creech coaxed the next two batters to pop up to shortstop to end the potential threat.

“Jalen’s really good at that, shutting teams down,” said Boltz. “She’s done that all year.”

Watterud finished with four RBIs in the second game, while Mackenzie Mayhood had a two-RBI double in the Bears’ five-run fifth inning.

Sydney Stites had five hits in two games for Bozeman, including a home run to lead off the fifth inning.

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