Butler baseball sweeps Dodge City

Lionel Tipton
The Butler Grizzlies celebrate in a game.

EL DORADO, Kansas—In track, sometimes race times will carry a “w” for “wind-aided.”

Dodge City and Butler probably could have used that designation Saturday.

With steady 18 mph northwest winds that kept the flags in center field as if they were starched, any fly ball to right field didn’t need much help clearing the fence.

The two teams combined for 11 home runs – most of them to right field – during their 16 innings of Saturday’s doubleheader. 

Butler took both games, giving the Grizzlies (16-8, 13-7) a nice six-game winning streak and tying them for second in the Jayhawk Conference West Division with Seward County behind division-leading Hutchinson, which has won eight straight.

Grizzlies coach B.J. McVay said afterward that he was happy to pull out the victories after Dodge gave his team all it could handle.

“They can really hit,” McVay said of Dodge. “They’ve been scoring double-digit runs in a lot of  conference games, so to keep (three) out of four games under 10 runs is pretty good, because they’re scoring a lot of runs against everybody else.

“A lead’s never safe when the wind is blowing like it is.”

This was especially true in the opener. Butler eked out an 11-10 seven-inning walkoff victory, but being able to walk off probably saved the Grizzlies.

Each team hit four home runs, but often the ones hit by Dodge City (15-16, 2-14) provided a means to quickly catch up once Butler had forged ahead. 

The Grizzlies opened the scoring quickly, getting three runs in the first on RBI singles by Josh Cameron and Zach Stroh, and a double-play ball.

But Dodge City answered with a run in the second and tied the score at 4-4 in a three-run third off Butler starter Nate Adler. Freshman Joe Daneff homered in the third, then went deep again in the fourth off reliever Cade Phelps, giving Dodge a 6-4 lead. 

Sophomores Bryce Zimmerer and Noah Argento homered back-to-back in the bottom of the fourth, tying the game again, getting their fly balls up in the wind to the opposite field.

The Grizzlies moved ahead in the sixth when freshman shortstop Jonah Cox sent a pitch over the wall to right field with Cameron aboard. The lead grew to 10-6 when Augusta freshman Jaren Jackson homered – to right field, naturally – and scored Stroh ahead of him.

“That wouldn’t have gone out without the wind,” Jackson said of his homer, the first of his collegiate career. “Every ball that got up in there could have gone out. I don’t try to hit home runs that much; I just try to hit singles.” 

But any Butler celebration was made premature when the Conqs put up four runs in the top of the seventh, keyed by homers from first baseman Alex Smith (a rarity, to left field) and No. 9 hitter Trent Trammell.

The Grizzlies pulled off an escape in the bottom of the inning when Cox coaxed a bases-loaded walk from Dodge reliever Justin Dunlap, bringing the game to a merciful end.

Butler found the going a little easier in the second game, largely behind a sharp pitching performance from sophomore right-hander Dylan Richey. Richey pitched seven of the game’s nine innings, giving up just five hits and all three Conq runs with seven strikeouts.

Meanwhile, his teammates backed him with a 12-hit attack, including batting around in a six-run seventh inning. Zimmerer had an RBI single and later stole home, Cox’s single scored another run, Cameron had a sacrifice fly, and Jackson’s single drove in two more.

Richey said he appreciated that kind of support after he ran into difficulty in the top of the seventh.

“In the bottom of that (seventh) inning, everyone was rallying and ready to go,” he said. “We put up a ‘six-spot.’ It’s pretty special when you have an offense that can put that up any time.”

Just for good measure, sophomore Jackson Syring, who earlier suffered a painful foul ball off his shin, crushed a two-run homer to left in the eighth inning for the final margin. 

“They always talk it up to us, ‘See the ball up,’” Syring said. “The one I fouled off my shin, it was up, I just got on top of it. I saw that one (in the eighth) up and put a good swing on it, and did what I practice. 

“(Dodge reliever Trey Riggs) gave me a fastball up, and I stayed through it, and I just hit it hard enough that it would go out. Wind or not, I felt like I got a pretty good piece of it.”

Freshman Corbin Talley pitched a scoreless eighth, and freshman Braxton Hyde shut down the Conqs in the ninth.

Only then could McVay breathe a little easier and put the windy conditions in the past tense.

“When the wind’s blowing like it is (Saturday) we know at our field, they’re going to be close ones,” he said. “There’s going to be balls that leave the yard that on a typical day they’re not going to leave the yard. That’s how it is at our field. We knew it was going to be like that, but the nice thing is we get last at-bats. 

“In the second one, Richey was just spot on. I thought when he gave up the three in the seventh, he was kind of losing some gas and we were going to try to get one more inning out of him and go to the pen. We waited probably a little bit longer than we probably should have, but he deserved it. He threw well. I’m glad we scored after we took him out.”

Freshman Cox wore out the Conquistadors in the series. He had nine hits in 17 at-bats, scored seven runs and drove in seven more.

“The wind’s always my best friend in this park,” Cox said. 

He credited Syring and Argento with helping him make the transition to college.

“(They) have really guided me through the offensive mindsets and really how to play here,” he said.  “(I’m) just following the older guys’ lead, and they’re helping me out.”

Butler will face Neosho (14-15, 7-11) in a nine-inning game Tuesday, then will travel to Barton County (21-12, 8-8) for a doubleheader Thursday. Then, have the return trip next Saturday at McDonald Stadium.

“Our conference is tough all the way through,” Richey said. “The next couple of series, we’re facing a couple of pretty tough teams, so you can’t be sleeping on anyone in our conference.”