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West: Eastern AA baseball race tight as expected
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Ed West

Let's not count Billings Senior out of the Eastern AA softball race just yet.

Tuesday's 7-6 victory over Billings Skyview got the Broncs back into the picture and sets up an interesting final week of the season.

After this weekend's nonleague games with Butte and the Helena schools, the Billings teams will face off next week.

Senior plays host to Skyview on Tuesday and then meets Bozeman at home for two games on Friday, May 16. Also on that Friday, Billings West plays at Skyview.

West leads the league at 6-3, Skyview is at 5-3 and Senior is 4-3.

Great Falls (5-4) had a chance to take control last week, but the Bison were beaten by Bozeman and Skyview and probably lost their chance at getting the league's top seed at the state tournament.

Everyone, of course, makes the state tournament so maybe it doesn't make all that much difference what seeding you get. Just about every team in the Western AA looks pretty good. Just ask the Billings teams, who lost eight of 10 games in Missoula.

However, it appears that avoiding Kalispell as long as possible is a good idea considering the fact the Bravettes' Chelsea Lohrenz has thrown three no-hitters so far.

Even so, winning the league title would be an accomplishment for any of the Billings teams, particularly Skyview, which hasn't been a title contender in recent years.

Though it would be nice, Skyview coach Scott Lynch prefers his team's attention to be on improvement.

"We're not worried about that (league title)," Lynch said. "We're building for the state tournament. We're getting better and that's important for a young team."

Skyview has demonstrated it can play with anyone in the East with improved hitting and a good pitching staff of Erica Dahl, Kelcey Cavan and Lauren Gustafson. The Falcons were also the only Billings school to win in Missoula, sweeping Hellgate.

West is riding a three-game league winning streak highlighted by the strong pitching of Kristi Radi and Katie Singer.

"I hope we're peaking," said coach Ed Kriskovich. "I hope we can play like we have in the last three games. Our two pitchers are coming into their own. The kids are feeling more confident.

"We're going over situations and about taking advantage of mistakes other people make. We're working with our pitchers on making the right pitch at the right time. Our hitting has picked up a little bit. We've got seven kids hitting over .300."

Senior coach Dave Draeger feels a bit better about the stretch run after the Broncs outlasted Skyview in 12 innings Tuesday.

The Broncs entered that game with four straight losses and had scored just one run on 16 hits in those games.

Draeger's big concern still remains with the bats, but the seven runs and 14 hits against Skyview were encouraging.

"We still have a lot of strikeouts and that's a concern," Draeger said. "We were better. We had some good at-bats, even with the strikeouts. Everybody's contributing."

The Broncs are capable at the plate as they demonstrated in the first 11 games, averaging 7.7 runs a game.

Before Tuesday's game, Draeger said the Broncs weren't "doing the things with the bat that we had earlier. We're taking too many good pitches and we're getting behind in the count."

We'll find out if Tuesday's victory was the being of a comeback for the Broncs.

(Ed West can be reached at 657-1325 or be e-mail at ewest@billingsgazette.com)

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