A year ago, Libby was nine outs away from a chance to play for the Class B/C state softball championship.
Instead, Florence-Carlton exploded for seven runs over the final three innings to take home the first-place hardware.
Libby will not have an opportunity to write a better ending for itself in the Class B/C state tournament, as the Loggers have jumped back up to Class A this year after a brief, two-year stint in the lower classification.
Though its opponents and the path to another state tournament will be different this season, Libby’s goal remains the same — to once again give itself an opportunity to play for a state title, and this time, to finish the job.
“Whether it’s A or B,” Libby head coach Dean Thompson said, “our goal is to win a state championship.”
Such a task will be anything but easy.
Belgrade returns plenty of pieces from the team that won the Class A state championship a year ago. The Panthers are already off to a roaring start after walloping Columbia Falls and Polson, two of Libby’s Northwest A counterparts, to begin the season last weekend.
The Loggers, however, also have reason to be optimistic about their prospects in Class A.
Thompson brings back six starters from the team that was one of the final two standing in Class B last year, including its best pitcher — Khalyn Hageness — and biggest offensive threat — Jayden Winslow.
Hageness, an all-state hurler, is one of only two seniors for Libby, which will once again rely on contributing underclassmen.
The Loggers have them in spades.
There’s Winslow, the all-conference first baseman who occupies the middle of the lineup. There’s Sammee Bradeen, who will serve as Hageness’ catcher for the third year. And there’s Linsey Walker, another three-year starter in the outfield.
All, Thompson said, are motivated by last season’s finish and have returned better than ever after an offseason of summer ball and open gym workouts.
They make their coach optimistic Libby is capable of not only holding its own in Class A, but perhaps much more.
“If we play well,” Thompson said, “we’ll be right up there with the good ones.”
Evan McCullers is a sports reporter and columnist for the Daily Inter Lake. He can be contacted by phone at (406) 758-4463 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.