There are tough-to-swallow losses, and then there's Montana's Class AA state softball title game.
Surely, you've heard of a walkoff home run before. This was that, sort of, only far worse. In the state's highest classification of softball, Billings West (Mont.) High defeated Missoula Big Sky 3-2 in a winner-take-all game with a walkoff "home run," all right — on a dropped third strike and a comedy of errors.
Well, it was more like tragedy for Big Sky and pitcher Kendall Rauk. With two outs and a 2-2 count on the aptly named Kendyl Boltz of Billings West, Rauk got the third strike, but it escaped her catcher's glove. The ensuing throw to first ended up along the right-field fence, and another attempt to nab the bolting Boltz at third got away. As a result, Boltz came all the way around to score the title-winning run.
“I just thought, ‘Keep going!’ This is our motto of our team. Don’t give up,” Boltz told The Montana Standard before adding a phrase never uttered before: “Strikeouts have their advantages, I guess."
As improbable as Billings West's win was, it gets wilder. Big Sky handed the Golden Bears a first-round loss in the double-elimination state tourney. However, West won four straight to reach the title series, including a come-from-behind 5-4 semifinal win courtesy of four C.M. Russell High seventh-inning errors.
Still needing two victories to seal the championship, they avenged the opening-round defeat with a 2-0 win over Big Sky in Game 1, and then delivered the stomach punch of all stomach punches in Game 2.
“All I could do was scream,” Billings West pitcher Jalen Creech told Helena's Independent Record after winning six straight games to capture the title trophy. “I was so filled with joy. I was speechless. I’ve seen a walkoff home run, but I’ve never seen a home run off of a strikeout. That’s awesome.”