Huckers sweep softball league, tournament championships
By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR
BIG SKY – Softball fans and players gathered at the Big Sky Community Park on the afternoon of Aug. 28 for a heated day two of the Big Sky Co-ed Softball League end-of-season tournament. By the end of the weekend, competitive tournament play had ended all but two teams’ seasons: the Hillbilly Huckers and the Herbaceous Smokey Bears.
After clawing their way to the championship game from the loser’s bracket, the Bears trailed for most of the game but made an exciting bid to catch up with the Huckers in the seventh and final inning. Two home runs from the Bears had the crowd on its feet, cheering and banging on the chain link fence in support of the underdog. Though the Bears fought hard to come back from a large deficit, they ultimately fell 15-8 to the Huckers.
The 22nd season of softball league play was rich with close competition and a fair share of surprise upsets. This year, 15 teams competed in 12 weeks of play culminating in the regular-season championship on Aug. 24 followed by the tournament on Aug. 27 and 28. This rowdy Big Sky tradition has long been a source of community gathering, giving locals the chance to unwind with friends and get competitive out on the field.
“I just think it’s a great community outreach,” said Whitney McKenzie, coordinator of the league run by the Big Sky Community Organization and longtime player. “It’s really wonderful to have so many people come down and have something to separate themselves from work and get out and enjoy our great community.”
“Queen” Jean Palmer, a member of the BSCO Softball Advisory Committee, said this season was one of the best the league has had and that everyone presented a “united front.”
“A lot of the new teams just meshed together this year,” she said. “They played as team members instead of as individuals and that was really neat to see.”
Not only did the teams mesh well this year, but longtime player Seth Griggs-Ryan said he’s witnessed what the league has done for the broader community.
“The biggest thing about [the games], I think, is seeing the camaraderie and the community that comes through with this,” said Griggs-Ryan, who came “out of retirement” as an umpire for this year’s tournament play.
Part of the league’s culture, Griggs-Ryan said, is the heckling and rivalries that develop.
“Everybody gets angry at each other for like two days but as soon as it’s over, everybody comes together,” he said, laughing.
This dynamic was on full display during the end-of-season tournament with the unruly crowd pulling for the Bears, even occasionally booing the Huckers. The Bears drew the crowd’s support as the underdog from the loser’s bracket, something McKenzie said the league hasn’t seen much of before.
After claiming victory, one Huckers player, Kristina DeVries, said she had a lot of fun returning this year to play in the league.
“It’s fun, I love it and I love the community,” she said. “I would not play anywhere else.”
The Huckers also claimed victory over the LPC Golden Goats in the regular season championship on Aug. 24, narrowly winning 14-13. The one-point win was reminiscent of last year when these same rivals competed for the top spot where the Huckers triumphed 18-17.
The last time a team swept both regular season and tournament championships was in 2018 when LPC took both of those titles. Prior to that, the last time the Huckers, one of the league’s four original teams, swept both titles was seven years ago in 2016.
Next to the championships, other highlights of the season, according to McKenzie and Queen Jean, were the Ladies of the League games. On Aug. 17, the league organized four teams of women to play three games, a first for the league.
“It really was truly amazing for the women to come out and show that they can do just as much as the men can because normally it’s a sport that the men have control,” McKenzie said. “But for the first time in a long time, the women got to show their true colors and show that they can make as many decisions as the men can.”
Queen Jean said the games were fun to watch and well-received by everyone.
“We’re going to schedule a ladies game every year now,” she said. “I think it’ll just morph into something even bigger and better.”
Bella Butler contributed reporting to this story.