BUTTE — Softball fans not only enjoyed sunshine and warm weather at Stodden Park on Tuesday afternoon, but also saw Butte Central nearly complete a comeback in their home-opener against Livingston. The Rangers won 8-6 in nine innings.
Livingston got off to a hot start, scoring four runs in the first two innings. Three of their runs came from successful squeeze attempts, a tactic this year's young Butte Central team has not seen before.
"We haven't seen small ball yet, we have to make some adjustments," Butte Central coach Chunky Thatcher said. "Overall I'm happy, we're not going to set the world on fire right now. I got six freshmen and two seniors, they're learning."
Butte Central appeared more comfortable after pitcher Maci Reopelle completed a clutch strikeout in the third inning, which left three base runners stranded for the Rangers. Mia Keeley had an impressive day behind the dish, allowing very few balls to get past her.
It was in the fifth inning that Butte Central found momentum offensively, when Maddi Kump hit an RBI double into right-center field. Kump would also came around to score, trimming the Livingston lead to 4-2 after five innings.
"We're making progress big time," Thatcher said. "I've got to find out who our clutch hitters are and where they should hit, it's something I've got to figure out."
Reopelle continued her hot streak on the mound, not allowing any additional runs through the seven innings. She would also be a crucial factor in the Maroons' last chance to stay alive.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, junior Sofee Thatcher singled then took second base on a wild pitch. Reopelle made a powerful swing, scoring Thatcher on an RBI double. Reopelle would also be batted in to tie the game.
"It's a journey we're on, I'm not disappointed," Chunky Thatcher said. "They just have to show me the enthusiasm that they want to keep on learning and get excited.
"They didn't get excited in the dugout until we tied it up. They have to find that desire from the first inning on."
Neither team scored in the eighth inning as Livingston made a pitching change, while Reopelle remained on the mound. Reopelle would pitch all nine innings for the Maroons.
Livingston appeared to have Reopelle's pitches timed well, as they made contact with consistency in the ninth inning. Livingston scored four runs in the final inning, making a last-inning comeback difficult for Butte Central. The Maroons responded with two runs, but ultimately came up short.
"Overall I'm happy, we have to go Stevensville with nine kids," Thatcher said. "I'm down to nine kids, four of them are freshmen. There's a lot to recognize, it would've been nice to have 16 or 17 kids, but they just have to learn as we play."
In addition to the short-handed roster, Butte Central has multiple injury concerns they have had to tend to. Jaeden Berger, a sophomore who could be key for the team, has not been able to play this season. Reopelle played nine innings on a hurt leg.
With only nine available players, Butte Central (0-3) will travel to Stevensville in search of their first victory this season.
Blake Fussell covers sports in and around Butte. Follow Blake on Twitter @blake_fussell