GREAT FALLS – The inaugural East-West Crossover Tournament will unfold Saturday afternoon at Multi-Sports Complex, with all 16 Class AA softball teams playing double-headers against two different opponents from the other division.
The teams were seeded according to their conference records, with the winning percentage breaking the tie in case the teams haven’t played the same number of games.
In the first round at 1 p.m., the No. 1 team from Eastern AA (Billings Senior) will face the top club from Western AA (Helena Capital), and the No. 2 through 8 schools will face similarly seeded teams from the other conference.
In the second round at about 3 p.m., all eight teams will switch opponents.
The Senior-Capital twin bill matches the two hottest teams in Montana, as the Senior Broncs are 7-0 in leagues games and 13-0 overall. Capital is also 7-0 in league games and the Bruins have won their last eight contests after dropping their first two games of the season.
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The diamonds at Multi-Sports may be a little soft after Friday night’s snowstorm; that’s why the games will start an hour later than originally scheduled. The nightcaps are set to start at 3 p.m. or as soon as the teams are ready The usual 10-run mercy rule (after five innings) will be in effect.
Other first-round matchups include (East listed first, league records if available):
No. 2, Billings West (5-1) vs. Missoula Sentinel (6-1); No. 3, Belgrade (4-2) vs. Butte (5-3); No. 4, C.M. Russell (4-3) vs. Helena High (3-3); No. 5, Great Falls (3-4) vs. Missoula Big Sky (3-4); No. 6, Billings Skyview (2-4) vs. Kalispell Glacier (2-5); No. 7, Bozeman (1-5) vs. Kalispell Flathead (1-6); No. 7, Bozeman Gallatin (0-6) vs. Missoula Hellgate (0-5).
In the second round on the lower fields, Capital will face West, and Sentinel will meet Senior. Butte will play CMR, while Helena High will play Belgrade. On the upper fields, Big Sky will meet Skyview, and Glacier will square off against Great Falls. Flatead will play Gallatin, while Hellgate will meet Bozeman.
Top pitchers to watch include Billings Senior right-hander Kennedy Venner, who has struck out an average of nearly two batters per inning this spring. Helena Capital’s Nyeala Herndon leads a staff that recently went 26 innings without giving up a run.
West’s batting order is led by sluggers Camden Susott, Avery Martin and Marleigh Nieto, who have combined for 28 home runs already this spring. Susott is also the state’s top average hitter at .643, followed by Nieto at .590. Belgrade’s versatile Tayler Thomas is batting .571.
No Western AA hitter has more than three homers. Kodie Hoagland of Butte has the top average at .571, followed by Ashlyn Lamping of Helena High at .545. Sentinel has three hitters batting at least .486.
The results of Saturday’s games won’t have any direct effect on league standings, but they could play a tiebreaker role in qualifying for the state tournament. The top six schools from each division advance to the state meet this year; overall records could serve a tiebreaking function.