The Polson 10 to 18-U softball squads are relatively young teams all across their age classifications across the board.
The 18-U Polson softball team realized they still have to accumulate more experience as they continue to build upon the recent Polson and Lady Pirates long-standing tradition of making the first dynasty without legendary Mission Valley softball coach Larry Smith.
“Playing in the tournament was rough, and we won our first two games right out of the chute but didn’t play the rest of the day again,” Polson coach Jamie Hanson said. “We had to wake up the next morning and play at 8 in the morning. We also had to play up because our girls were 16-U eligible.”
After the Lady Pirates fell to the Missoula Avalanche in the winner’s bracket, they had to face the Billings Tropics, another prominent team in the loser’s bracket.
“We had to play against players that were all older, and some of them were college girls, but (our girls) competed well with them,” Hanson said. “We were up 4-2 through the fourth inning, and we were starting to hit the ball, but we couldn’t string any hits together. I am very proud of the girls, and they worked hard and competed as we asked them to. Sometimes that is just how it works out, but I am still very proud of them.”
Throughout the entire state tournament, there was one common denominator between all of the Polson teams, despite none of the teams capturing a state championship trophy this season.
Hanson said he felt his teams were competitive.
“You want them to compete, and they competed, and no one blew us away or dominated us,” Hanson said. “The Avalanche, you have to give them full credit. They are good, and they kept scoring every inning. It makes it diffi you score two or three runs every inning.”
14-U captures fifth place
The highly-touted Polson 14-U softball team entered the state tournament easily one of the favorites headed into their age classification.
All season, Polson 14-U dominated several tournaments they entered. They ended up finishing fifth at state.
“They competed well, and you have to give them credit because they ended up playing the Avalanche teams and lost out this morning, but they were one of five teams left,” Hanson said. “We are a young 14-U team because the majority of the group on our team has just moved up last year from the 12-U, and that is a huge jump. They did a great job, and I am very pleased. They all worked very hard, and they scored some runs and competed. We just lost out this morning to a team that took second at state.”
10, 12-U making strides
The 10 and 12-U gained valuable experience competing for playing in what was the first state appearance for many of the girls at this level.
“(Both the 10,12-U) are just right there,” Hanson said. “The 12-U is a little disappointed in the outcome. They competed, and they were up, but they had a delay, and that changed the outcome of the game. We matched up well against the other team but we couldn’t keep up with the other team’s run production. There is a lot of talent right there, and a couple of young pitchers that are blossoming. We got a lot of good defense out of them, and also at the plate. That was the same thing with our 10-U when we look back on things.”
A new era
For years, Jamie Hanson’s name was synonymous with Mission Valley baseball and he played a crucial role in nearly two decades of the Mariner’s success.
Now Hanson, who just completed his first season as the head coach of both the Polson spring and summer programs, a position held by former Lady Pirates coach Larry Smith since the late 1980s, is still getting acclimated to his new role as the skipper.
“You hope that you are doing the right thing in keeping what they had done,” Hanson said. “You hope you can keep going, but maybe it’s a little bit different style of how you do things. You don’t want (the program) to go backward. I am pleased with the way the girls have worked. Their overall IQ of the game is a process, and they continue to learn.”
Work in progress
Hanson knows his young teams are still a work in progress from the 10-U all the way to the 18-U, and all groups keep improving as they continue to work on building a dynasty.
“I think just all in all we are competing with older players, and that is absolutely when the experience comes into play,” Hanson said. “The more experienced teams, they didn’t let a lot rattle them, and there is your diamond time and the experience in playing together at a different level.”
With college softball growing exponentially nationwide and in the region of Montana, there is more of an emphasis on recruiting now than in years past.
At state tournaments, there are coaches from Carroll College, the University of Montana and Williston State, among other regional NAIA-sanctioned and NCAA sanctioned college programs.
“I was hoping to see some of the Western colleges,” Hanson said. “Being so close to Missoula, that is the goal is to be able to do some reverse recruiting, and get some of these younger girls and sophomores wanting to play college (softball).”
Players committed to the Polson softball program never stop playing softball year-round to try to make their teams better.
“We’ve got six or seven girls going out to the nationals with the Montana Mustangs,” Hanson said. “It’s great that many of our younger players get to see a lot of talent outside of here. They get a little bit of exposure to several teams in Europe, Arizona, Washington, and some Seattle teams, and it’s good exposure for our players.”
The Polson softball team continues to move forward in their first year without Mission Valley legend Larry Smith guiding the team.
The Lady Pirates, are working on building a second-wave dynasty, as the all of these teams continue to build the second generation of the Polson dynasty.
The Lady Pirates continues to build their program in attempt to win the first Montana High School Association championship since 2012.
The Lady Pirates finished second losing to Belgrade, a team that will be joining the MHSA double-A classification, at the start of the spring of 2020.
Last season, the Pirates finished second in the MHSA Class A softball tournament, and they look to build upon that momentum they established headed into the 2020 spring season.