Bozeman softball

Bozeman's Parker Wemple allowed two earned runs on nine hits while striking out four batters and walking three against Missoula Hellgate on Saturday.

In practice this week, Amanda Hargrove asked her team what would change. Coming off a blowout loss to Billings Senior on Tuesday, something had to. Bozeman’s first-year head coach let her players decide.

They said they needed to have more fun, an emotion often elicited in practice but rarely during games for a team that only previously won once this spring.

The Hawks (3-16) approached Saturday’s doubleheader in Missoula against Hellgate and Big Sky far more relaxed and confident than they had for most other contests. The alteration resulted in two wins, a 5-4 triumph over the Knights and an 11-1 victory over the Eagles to close the regular season.

“‘We’re just going to have fun,’” Hargrove said. “That was my motto of the day.”

Without having previously played each of the opponents prior to Saturday, Bozeman entered without any preconceived ideas of the challenge ahead. The Hawks improved defensively, making clutch stops in Game 1 and committing just one error in Game 2.

Hargrove and Bozeman’s coaching staff recently began instructing players to run more after making mistakes in practice and have been hitting balls harder at them to prepare for when it counts. The head coach said pushing the team more resulted in spirited sessions, which translated to Saturday’s performance.

“They weren’t stressed or tense,” Hargrove said. “They just went out and played well.”

In the opener against Hellgate, Bozeman opened a 5-2 lead through six innings. But the Knights rallied in the seventh and loaded the bases with one out. The next batter hit a ball hard into foul territory along the first-base line, and Hallie Dobie, who scored a team-high two runs, dove to make the catch.

The Hawks typically hadn’t attempted diving plays throughout the season. But they’ve become more common in practice recently which led to Dobie’s game-changing play. As soon as the out was recorded, she popped back to her feet to prevent any runners from advancing, and Bozeman secured the win.

“I’ve never seen her do that before (in a game),” Hargrove said.

During a 30-minute break between games, the head coach heard players discussing the joy they experienced. The success carried into Game 2, as the Hawks allowed a run in the first inning but none after that. Their six runs in the fourth all came with two outs, an indication of their growing mettle, Hargrove said.

Bozeman leaned on Parker Wemple in the circle in Game 1, and she threw a complete game, allowing two earned runs on nine hits and striking out four. In Game 2, Dobie allowed one run on four hits and the contest only lasted five innings.

“They threw really confidently today. They threw as well as they could,” Hargrove said. “They did a good job hitting their spots. When (opponents) did get hits, they hit at people. I told my pitchers to trust their defense, and we were able to make plays.”

Due to a recent format change, the Hawks will compete in the Eastern AA Divisional on Friday in Billings with a chance to continue Saturday if they win at least one of two games on the first day. Knowing the season could end, Hargrove expects her players to display their best shot.

“We’re going to just keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Hargrove said. “We’re going to keep hitting hard balls (in practice). We’re also a lot better going into divisionals. The girls are excited to go. They’ve never really got to play in a tournament before. They’re excited for a tournament atmosphere.”

Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

Paul Schwedelson is a sports writer for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.