Most often when softball teams like Frenchtown, Polson and Butte Central congregate at the same athletics complex, there’s a Class A Montana state softball championship on the line.
When it happened Friday, the Frenchtown Invitational was to blame.
“You could watch us and (Class B-C power) Florence and Polson and Butte Central all at one time,” Frenchtown head coach Eli Field said. “That’s four of the better teams in the state. … That’s the great thing about this tournament, you can sit out there in right field and watch two games at once.”
The Frenchtown Invitational tournament — which is not quite a tournament in the traditional sense, but more a massive collection of games played over two days on the front lawn of Frenchtown High — has been a staple of the spring sports season dating back to the 1990s. The event is a showcasing of the mid-sized schools’ talent, especially that on the west side of the state.
But not exclusively.
“Where else can a team like Libby come down to play Belgrade?” Field said.
A cool 400 miles separates those two schools.
The event started as a meeting of small schools just after Montana high school softball was split into two classifications in 1992 — your AA and your A. Since 1997, when the state broke into three classes for the sport, the Frenchtown Invitational has been a sparring ground for Class A and B-C teams looking for a mid-season challenge.
Three fields hosted 28 games over the two-day invitational this season with somewhere between 15 and 18 teams competing — depending on your inclusion of junior varsity units.
“It’s just a good chance to match up with good teams you don’t normally see,” Field said.
Because the next time some of these high-profile programs do see each other, it will likely by in the postseason.