Ronan experience shows Troy the way

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The Ronan Maidens high school softball team rolled into Troy for a 5 p.m. date with the host Lady Trojans Monday night. A trip to Libby for Friday and Saturday’s Montana Divisional Tournament was at stake. The Maidens rather abruptly gave an answer if question to the outcome of this game was pondered. By the end of the five-inning game the final score read 22-8 in Ronan’s favor.

The Maidens sent 14 batters to the plate in the first inning. Ten of those batters crossed the plate, all with one or two out. Ronan put the ball in play early, and the Lady Trojans had the fumbles early. The ball just didn’t seem to want to squeeze into Troy’s mitts.

Meanwhile the Maidens batters would just barely squeeze a hit over Troy’s duo middle infielders Taylor Carter and Alyssa Lewis. Trojan pitcher Kylie Carr then had difficulty locating the plate, walking four batters before Ronan showed another weapon in the Clairmont sisters’ power. At the end of the first inning, sister Madison Clairmont rifled a triple to the fence to drive in the eighth and ninth runs of the half-inning.

Troy went down harmlessly in both the first and second innings, and watched the menacing first three hitters in the Maidens lineup spark two more runs for Ronan before Troy came to hit in the third inning. The first three hitters — Regan and Madison Clairmont and lead-off hitter Jaylyn Hakes — for Ronan found themselves on base 14 times in their combined 15 at bats. They had 11 hits, scored 12 runs and knocked in 13 runs.

The Trojans had the top of the line-up due up to see the Ronan pitcher for the second time around. The Maidens pitcher suddenly couldn’t locate the strike zone, walking the first four Lady Trojan hitters, giving Tristyn Winebark an RBI in process. Up next was Montana Rice. Rice had already laced a rope on it’s way to the outfield if it hadn’t found Ronan’s second baseman’s glove in the first inning.

Rice wasted no time this at bat either, smashing a drive past the outstretched glove of the Ronan centerfielder as she dove towards the right-field foul pole. The ball settled at the fence before the rightfielder got to it. All three runners came around to score and Rice slid safely into third base with a triple.

But as quickly as Troy’s uprising shot up, it came down just as swiftly. The opposing pitcher who couldn’t buy a strike early in the inning now couldn’t miss. She struck out the next two Lady Trojan batters, and induced a harmless pop fly to end the inning with Ronan up 12-4.

Ronan tacked on 10 more runs the next two innings including Regan Clairmont’s two-run homerun over the left-centerfield fence. Clairmont’s arm behind the plate kept the Troy runners honest and not straying far from the base all game.

On a quick look, this looked like a fairly even game with both teams playing for a shot at the divisional title. However, circumstances couldn’t be more different. The young Lady Trojans are playing for a playoff game which would be a first for most if not all the current roster in Troy.

On the other hand, though true Ronan was playing for the same chance, this was not where Ronan is used to being. In fact, it would take a look at the 2010-11 archives of the Class B/C Montana State Softball State Championship Tournament to find a tournament without a team from Ronan.

Ronan has played for two of the last four championship games. They finished second both times, the first in 2013, and again in 2015. Experience was definitely in the Maidens’ favor, but time can be tricky. Maybe in two or three years the Lady Trojans could be teaching another team a lesson in playoff softball, and have Ronan at least partly to thank for it.

Troy pitcher Kylie Carr took the loss in the circle, walked six and struck out one. The Ronan batters sprayed, squeezed and smashed 18 hits on the evening. Troy had two hits on the triple from Rice and a two run single from Lewis. Rice led her team with four RBIs, Lewis had two. Kaylee Tunison and Carr each scored two runs for the Lady Trojans.

As with all jubilations like the one played out on the Ronan side of the field after a victory and season extending excitement, on the Troy side there were long faces, streaks of tears and the pitted feelings of knowing it’s really over — the season for some, the careers of a few. The freshmen might not quite get the pitted feeling yet, but they will in a few years. Meanwhile, they could and did share in the emotion of saying goodbye to some of their teammates for the last time on a softball field.

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