HAMILTON -- Hamilton built a big lead through four innings on a soggy, rain-soaked field before holding off a furious charge from Butte Central, 9-8, in the championship game of the Southwestern A softball divisional tournament.
Hamilton built a 9-4 lead through four innings, but Butte Central began to chip away, scoring a run in the fifth, and then three in the sixth before loading the bases in the seventh.
But the Broncs were able to hold on for a No. 1 seed in next week's state tournament at Anaconda.
"We didn't hang out heads," Central coach Kelci Thatcher said. "They didn't quit, and that's something we've talked about all year. It's not over until it's over, and we did a phenomenal job to come back."
Central entered the top of the seventh trailing 9-8, and Hamilton was able to get two quick outs to start the frame.
But then the Maroons used patience at the plate, drawing three consecutive two-out walks off Sky Lopez to load the bases for Teresa Piazzola.
Lopez dug deep and won the battle, eventually getting a strikeout to end the game.
The three runners stranded to end the game gave Central 11 total, including 7 over the final three innings.
Central came out of the gates swinging to start, with four of the first five hitters reaching.
A Taylor Wahl single opened the scoring and gave the Maroons a 1-0 lead.
After a wild pitch scored Mollie Peoples to make it 2-0, Kassidy Criscuolo came up with a clutch, two-out two-run double to make it 4-0.
But Hamilton answered in its half of the first, striking for three runs. Taylor Reynolds singled to make it 4-1, then Rachael Ringer belted a two-run home run to make it 4-3. The scored could have been 4-4, but Central successfully appealed a tag up play on the first out of the inning to wipe out a run.
Hamilton then tied the score in the bottom of the second when the No. 9 hitter, Kloie Nye, hit a solo home run to center to make it 5-4.
In the third, Hamilton took its first lead of the game, taking advantage of two Central miscues.
The Broncs took a 5-4 lead on a wild pitch, then a blooper fell between three defenders in short right.
Reynolds hit a ball in front of the mound and the Maroons threw it down the right field line, allowing a run to score and make it 6-4.
Shay Mohn then followed with a double to drive in Reynolds, making it 7-4.
"We made a few uncharacteristic errors," Thatcher said. "But playing in these conditions was tough, but we'll have a few things to work on this week defensively."
The lead swelled to 9-4 in the fourth when Taylor Goligoski singled home a run and Reynolds followed with a sacrifice fly.
That's when Central began it's comeback.
With one out in the fifth, Central had four straight runners reach, capped off by a Criscuolo single to drive home Wahl, making it 9-5.
McKenzie Gallagher then stepped in and laced a ball to left, but Nye made a nice catch to strand two.
In the sixth, it took Central two batters to cut the lead to two, when Shawnee Hjelt singled, then Kloie Thatcher belted a two-run home run to left to bring the Maroons within 9-7.
After an Emily St. John single and Peoples double, Wahl made it 9-8 on a ground-out.
The Maroons then left the tying run on third after a pop-out.
In the bottom of the sixth, Hamilton looked poised to rebuild the lead, loading the bases with no outs.
But Gallagher, who came on in relief of Teresa Piazzola, induced a pop-up, a ground out that got the out at home, and another pop out to end the threat, keeping the Maroons within one. That set the stage for the seventh.
"The girls played with class even in the loss," Thatcher said. "We may have lost but we did it the right way. Some circumstances were against us but we were almost there. I'm really proud of these girls."
The loss pushed the Maroons into a playoff game with Anaconda to determine seeding for the state tournament, a game the Maroons won 2-1 on a walk-off hit by St. John in the bottom of the fifth to take the No. 2 seed.
The game lasted five innings due to poor field conditions.
The Maroons will now gear up for the Class A tournament in Anaconda this weekend, where they will meet Frenchtown in the first round. The Maroons will enter the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the state, winning 10 of their final 12 games.