File this under both extremely heartbreaking and wildly exciting: a strikeout that resulted in an inside-the-park, walk-off home run.
A girls state softball championship game in Montana was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning. With one out, Missoula Big Sky's Kendall Rauk struck out Billings West batter Kendyl Boltz. It was the second out. Only one more to go.
Except for one big detail: catcher Jaime Schafer couldn't handle the strike, and the ball kicked to the backstop. And as anyone who's played baseball or softball goes, a dropped third strike gives the batter an opportunity to advance. That's exactly what Boltz did.
You could say Boltz bolted. And as she did, it started what would become an improbable ending to the game. See, as Boltz ran, the Missoula players had a hard time handling the ball, and kept throwing it wide of their marks allowing Boltz to keep on running.
In fact, as she approached third base, Boltz got the signal from her coach to head on home. She did. And as she crossed the plate and scored, she capped off a wild play: An inside-the-park home run to walk off and win the game and the championship, all while she technically struck out.
Watch it unfold below:
“All I could do was scream,” Billings West pitcher Jalen Creech told the Billings Gazette. “I was so filled with joy. I was speechless. I’ve seen a walk-off home run, but I’ve never seen a home run off of a strikeout. That’s awesome.”
“I just thought, ‘Keep going,’” Boltz told the paper. “This is the motto of our team: Don’t give up no matter how tough it is. Go your hardest and don’t give up on anything. And I think that’s what basically gave us this championship.”
But the home run was just the fitting ending to an already incredible story. As the Gazette explains, the team had to win to win five elimination games in one day under the state's two-day tournament format:
They began with an 8-0 victory over Helena Capital in the morning. Creech — who logged an astounding 31 innings on Friday — earned the shutout. West followed that with a 9-2 triumph over crosstown rival Billings Skyview to advance to the third-place game.
But that’s where it looked like the magic would run out. Trailing by two going into the top half of the seventh inning against Great Falls CMR, the Bears scored three times, benefitting from three costly errors and another fly ball that got lost in the sun. They finished the Rustlers off in the bottom of the seventh when right fielder Erin Watterud hung on to catch a fly ball despite colliding hard with center fielder Rachael Dillon.
Creech came on in relief of Ashley Davis a few innings earlier and got her third win of the day. That put West in the championship round against Big Sky.
The game above was actually game two of the championship series. Billings won the first came, so when Boltz crossed the plate it sealed the title.