Great Falls, C.M. Russell High to clash on the diamond

C.M. Russell's shortstop Kylie Otis, left, comes up with the ball after tagging out Great Falls' Hailey Houck in a steal attempt at second base during a crosstown game last season at the Multi-Sports Complex. TRIBUNE PHOTO/LARRY BECKNER

C.M. Russell’s shortstop Kylie Otis, left, comes up with the ball after tagging out Great Falls’ Hailey Houck in a steal attempt at second base during a crosstown game last season at the Multi-Sports Complex. TRIBUNE PHOTO/LARRY BECKNER

It’s safe to say that Thursday’s crosstown softball game between Great Falls High and C.M. Russell High is one of the most anticipated of the season thus far.

You can read more in Thursday’s print edition or online. But the two teams are arguably the top two in the state if last year’s state tournament and this year’s play is any indication.

The Rustlers topped the Bison twice on the state tournament’s final day for the Class AA title last May and GFH has been itching for another chance.

“The girls feel like they owe them for last year and they really do,” GFH coach Mike Coleman said. “You lose two games to them at the state tournament and you have the feeling like you owe them. Plus we want to win another conference game. That’s the biggest thing for me.”

The Bison have cruised to a 9-1 mark so far this season including a 4-1 mark in Eastern AA play. The one hiccup came against Butte and GFH rectified that in the nightcap of that doubleheader last week.

Mercedes Bourgeau has been a force at the plate (.595, six home runs, 18 RBIs) and in the pitching circle (5-1, 4.42 ERA) for the Bison. She gets the nod Thursday.

“She’s worked hard in the last couple weeks and her ball is moving real well,” Coleman said. “She throws the ball harder than anybody else does and the last few teams have struggled hitting her. We’re just working on changeups and rise balls and trying to perfect them where she can hit spots with them. If she keeps going like that she’s going to be real tough by the end of the year.”
Meanwhile, the Rustlers dropped their first two games of the season sans returning Super-Stater Alissa Keeler, but have bounced back to win five straight.

“As a team I feel like we’ve really come together and our hitting has come finally,” CMR sophomore Quinn Hartman said. “We’re talking well, communication is good, fielding is good – I feel like everything is coming along.”

Hartman (2-2, 2.20 ERA) is scheduled to start today. The southpaw is averaging a strikeout an inning. Keeler (3-0, 2.93) is also a key hurler for the Rustlers.

Try as the teams might, all the players know this isn’t just another game.

“It’s your rival and usually they play better than they normally do for some reason,” said CMR assistant coach Marsi Helgeson, who was a star pitcher at GFH. “But our girls are really excited. They want it. They’re pretty hungry.”

The teams are well-acquainted with one another and not simply because they practice on adjacent diamonds at the Multi-Sports Complex. CMR and GFH split their regular-season meetings last year and the Bison took the first game at the state tournament before the Rustlers won two to win the title.

“We know different things that they do so we’ve talked to our kids just like we would any other team,” Helgeson said. “Things that they’re going to throw or different batters and things like that. But from last year I think they’re a little hungrier than last year which is good. We just have to keep them composed.”

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