BUTTE - The Hamilton Broncs finally caught the carrot that had been dangling before them.
The Broncs defeated the Billings Central Rams 5-0 during the championship game and won the State A high school girls' championship that concluded Saturday at the Copper Mountain Sports Complex.
Hamilton (23-3) held off a pesky Central (19-5) bunch 3-2 earlier in the day to advance to the title game.
In recent years, Hamilton had done it all - except win state.
The Broncs are three-time Central Division champions. They ended Butte Central's 53-game winning streak last year. Hamilton capped an undefeated regular season last season.
The Broncs, during the last two years, lost the undefeated semifinal and placed third at state.
But it finally came together.
"We've just got a great group of girls," Hamilton coach Steve Weston said. "They come every day to practice, week in and week out and work very hard. They put up with a lot from me. I'm not an easy guy to play for. I'm just so fortunate to be blessed with such a great group of girls."
Junior hurler Melodee Mildenberger struck out 12, gave up six hits and no walks, improving to 22-3 on the season.
Mildenberger recorded an RBI single in the first, scoring Jenna McCartney, who singled to leadoff the side.
In the fourth, with a 1-0 lead, Mildenberger struck out the first two batters, but Central's Keriann Lynch followed up with a single. She reached third on an error, but the Rams could not manufacture a run.
The game blew open in the bottom of the inning when Mildenberger opened up with a double and scored on a passed ball at home. Catcher Vanessa Wood reached base on an error and scored on a double from Carly Baer.
Ashlee Eckhardt reached base on balls and scored on a throwing error in the infield, capping a four-run inning.
In the sixth, No. 2 batter Chelsi Diedrich started the Billings side out with a single. Kayla Webster and Fray Bustos each singled, loading the bases.
But Mildenberger struck out the next three batters to retire the side.
"Momentum, that's the name of the game. We got a little bit of that and scored some runs," Weston said. "Mel, just the way she is, it's going to be tough to score that many on her.
"They made a little run on us but Mel settled in and got us out of it."
It was Central's third game of the day.
"I think the girls played hard," Billings Central coach Tracy Scott said. "I think they played with heart. We kind of ran out of gas and we were a little hurt. I don't like to make excuses. Hamilton is a great team."
Lesley Dobson (15-3), the Rams No. 1 pitcher, was battling a nagging knee injury. Also, the junior had already thrown 13 innings on the day. In the Class A, a pitcher can throw 14 innings a day.
Freshman Kayla Webster pitched a complete game.
Billings Central 7, Butte Central 3 (9 innings) Butte Central had the Billings Central Rams right where it wanted them - twice. Or, so it appeared.
Looking nothing like the team that was 10-runned by the Rams Thursday, Butte Central had the Manion sisters, Brenna and Lauren, on second and third with only one out and the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh.
But both players were nailed at the plate on outstanding defensive plays by pitcher Lesley Dobson and catcher Christian Goes Ahead.
Attempting to score on a squeeze bunt by Karly Kambich, Brenna Manion was tagged out by Goes Ahead on Dobson's throw from the ground.
Lauren Manion was tagged out by Dobson after her pitch sailed over Goes Ahead, who made the recovery in the nick of time.
That ended the inning, and Billings Central clicked for four runs in the ninth on five hits, including a squeeze bunt, and a walk.
Jamie DeLao's two-run single was the key hit, but it was game-long outstanding defense, including some brilliant plays, that won the game for the Rams.
However, when the first three Central batters reached base in the bottom of the ninth - Jordan Kambich after being hit by a pitch and Brenna Manion and Ashley Bair on walks - it looked like the Maroons would score a few runs themselves. But Kayla Webster, the starting pitcher, re-entered the game and got the final three outs, including Kambich at the plate.
The Maroons also appeared headed for victory in the sixth.
Holding a 3-1 lead with one out in the top of the frame and no one on base, the Maroons yielded an infield hit to Chelsi Diedrich. Webster's double and Keriann Lynch's two-out, two run single followed, tying the score 3-3.
The Rams (19-5) struck first when Jillian Rigg and Diedrich hit back-to-back doubles in the first inning.