GREAT FALLS – Savanna Voyles' two-run homer in the third inning broke a 1-1 tie and sent Great Falls CMR into the Class AA state softball title game with a 3-1 win over arch-rival Great Falls on Friday afternoon at the Multi-Sport Complex.
Pitcher Tristin Achenbach, the Montana Gatorade Softball Player of the Year, struck out 17 in a complete-game performance.
Achenbach also struck out 10 and Voyles hit two homers in an earlier game as the Rustlers clobbered Helena 10-0 in a five-inning game.
Then, sparked by the pitching of Terra Gilchrist and a clutch home run by Taryn Holland, Helena got off the canvas and downed Missoula Sentinel 6-3 and Missoula Big Sky 3-1 in elimination games to earn the Bengals' first state softball trophy in program history. Helena will play Great Falls, which defeated Billings Senior 5-0 in an elimination game early Friday.
The Helena-Great Falls winner meets CMR for the championship. The loser finishes third and the survivor must win twice over CMR to take the state title.
For Helena, arguably the biggest play during a day full of big plays came from the bat of Holland against Big Sky.
With score knotted 1-all in the top of the sixth inning, Jamie Pickens singled. Pinch-runner Rheyse Strueble advanced to second base on a wild pitch to set the stage for Holland with one thing in mind: bring that runner home. And that she did, crushing a two-run, game-deciding homer high over the right-field fence.
“I was honestly hoping just to get on base and hit Rheyse home,” said Holland, her eyes red from crying.
When asked whether it was a fastball or an off-speed pitch, the senior first baseman answered, “I don’t what kind of pitch it was … I just hit it, that’s all I know. And I didn’t actually know it was gone until I got to first and (assistant) coach (Jason) Murgel said ‘Touch ‘em all.’ ”
The contest was a pitcher’s duel between Gilchrist and the Eagles' Kaylee Rosenbaum. Gilchrist, who posted her third win of the tourney with a four-hitter while striking out six. Rosenbaum gave up five hits, with eight strikeouts.
But Gilchrist’s bat also figured in on the win. After a homer by Big Sky's Emily Hermes in the third inning, Helena's MacKenna Schmolke reached second base on an error in the fifth. Gilchrist’s RBI single knotted the score.
“When I drove in Rhyese and it tied everything up, I had confidence that we had a chance,” she recounted with a modest smile.
In the consolation bracket against Sentinel, Helena right fielder Vanessa Walsh spearheaded the three-run victory. Walsh went 3 for 4, with a homer and a double, two runs, and threw out a runner at the plate for the third out of the sixth frame.
After the game started in a 2-all tie after one, Helena led the rest of the way.
Holland stroked two hits and Pickens chipped in with a double.
Sentinel was led by Taylor Holmes, who went 3 for 4, with a double and a home run.