Butte High and Missoula Big Sky met to open the 2015 softball season, now the two teams will square off again, this time in the opening round of the Class AA softball tournament, with a berth in the semifinals at stake.
Butte (13-11) earned its spot in the AA tournament by winning a hard fought three game series withe Billings Senior last Friday, while Big Sky (19-4) earned its bid by sweeping Flathead last Thursday.
The game is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Fort Missoula Softball Complex.
The Bulldogs and Eagles met in the season-opener at the end of March, a game the Eagles took 5-0 behind the pitching of Big Sky's Macey Newberry, who held Butte to one hit, one walk and racked up 12 strikeouts in the win.
But the Bulldogs hope that the maturation of their young players, as well as key senior leaders will provide a different outcome this time around.
The Bulldogs though will have to battle past Newberry if they want to reach the semifinals, no easy task given that she was one of the top pitchers at any level.
Newberry finished the year with a 15-2 mark on the mound, compiling an ERA of just 1.26, and racking up 180 strikeouts on the year.
Newberry was also a force at the plate, hitting .455 and belting 10 home runs.
Facing off against Newberry will be Kaidy McClafferty, Butte High's standout freshman pitcher.
McClafferty was the Bulldogs ace from day one this season, and picked up 11 wins on the mound this year with an ERA just under 3.00.
Despite two strong pitchers set to take the mound, the game could turn out to be a slugfest, with Big Sky finishing as the Western leaders in almost every offensive category this season.
The Eagles hit .318 as a team, and slugged .564, 100 points more than the next closest team, both the top marks in the West.
The Eagles high-powered offense cranked a whopping 38 home runs this year, 22 more than the next best team, and scored a league best 165 runs. Big Sky also led the East in walks.
Kennedy Bahm is the table setter for the Eagles, hitting .571 for the year, while Morgan Johnson carries the load from the heart of the order.
Johnson connected for 10 home runs and 31 RBIs this season, both the top mark in the East.
Kendall Mooney is another bat to watch for the Eagles, she hit eight home runs and racked up 30 RBIs this season.
But the Bulldogs lineup packs plenty of punch as well, led by seniors Justyce Connole and catcher Maria Michelotti.
Connole led the Bulldogs with five home runs this year, while Michelotti added four.
Ashten McCloskey, Tristan Walks and Amanda Spear all had multiple home runs this year for the Bulldogs, including a grand slam by Walks last weekend against Senior.
The winner of the game will take on either CMR or Helena High in the semifinals at 10 a.m. Friday morning, while the loser takes on the CMR/Helena loser in an elimation game at noon Friday.