Butler softball sweeps Hutchinson, wins 33rd consecutive game
EL DORADO, Kansas — It would be safe to say that Butler’s softball doubleheader Monday against Hutchinson bore little resemblance to their earlier matchup March 26 at Hutchinson.
Oh, the third-ranked Grizzlies still swept, as they did in March, but they had to work much harder to accomplish it this time.
In March, the Blue Dragons were run-ruled at home in both games, falling to Butler, 11-2 and 9-0, in games that were both stopped after five innings.
But Monday’s twin bill was a far cry from that. At East Park, Hutch was determined to put up more of a fight, and that’s exactly what it did.
Winds of 26 mph from the south-southwest helped deep fly balls carry, and Hutch immediately took advantage.
Butler was in a 2-0 hole after Hutch’s initial at-bats, but the Grizzlies chipped away with single runs in the first three innings and caught the Blue Dragons at 3-3 after five innings.
A four-run Butler fourth made the score 7-3, but Hutch struck for two more runs to make it 7-5 after five innings, and the Grizzlies (37-2, 22-0) held on from there.
In the second game, Butler led comfortably throughout, but the victory wasn’t clinched until a three-run sixth put the lead over the top, 12-4.
The deciding blow came on a two-run homer to deep center field by Gentry Shepherd, a Goddard High product, with Hannah Knox aboard. Just before that, cleanup hitter and third baseman Ari Cordova homered to center for the Grizzlies’ 10th run. But Shepherd’s blow turned out the lights.
But even with activating the mercy rule in the nightcap, Hutchinson’s determination was a mild cause of concern for Butler coach Doug Chance.
“They were ready for a fight,” he said. “They came in here ready to battle, and every kid in their lineup was a tough out.
“If I was a pitcher, I would have faked an injury, because it’s tough pitching in these (windy) conditions. Whoever puts the most barrels on the balls is going to win the game. Nobody’s going to shut anybody out.”
Shepherd’s blast was a no-doubter, Chance said.
“That ball Gentry hit – it probably didn’t matter – because even if the wind’s blowing in (at) 30 (mph), it probably would still leave the yard,” he said. “I’ve actually seen her this year when the wind is blowing in really hard, and she has hit balls (so hard) that nothing is going to stop them.”
She entered as a pinch-hitter for Brooke McCorkle in the fourth. Chance said she seems to do better as a non-starter than being in the opening lineup.
“I don’t know what it is about her,” he said. “If I bring her in to pinch-hit, she’s always going to hit a bomb.
“If I start her – I don’t know if it’s pressure, but she struggles a little bit as a starter. (But) you pull that lever and bring her in off the bench (and) she’s going to give you an at-bat. I like my chances out there with her.”
Freshman second baseman Emily Adler had three hits in the two games and drove in five runs.
“That’s not unusual for Emily,” Chance said. “When your 1, 2 and 3 hitters are in the top seven in the nation in hitting (Madi Young, Shayna Espy and Adler), I wouldn’t want to pitch to them.
“And then, you’ve got Cordova in the ‘4’ hole and three good sticks down the line. They’re going to have some off games. We didn’t swing it that well, I didn’t think.”
As nice as the sweep was, it wasn’t without difficulty, Adler said.
“They put up a good fight,” said Adler, a Rose Hill product. “It’s kind of cool that they gave us some competition. Everyone’s going to put up a fight against us, so we can’t let down.”
One bright spot for Hutchinson (25-15, 15-9) was freshman third baseman Natalie Bevan from Bluestem High, who homered in both games.
“It was pretty awesome to be able to hit them off Butler, and it was pretty cool to come back and do that,” she said. “It’s sad that we didn’t pull it out, but I think that we fought really hard as a team. I’m very proud of us for doing what we did.”
Of course, it’s always special to have good games in front of loved ones.
“I’m just really excited to be able to do it,” Bevan said. “It was really a blast knowing that I had friends and family here being here to see me play, doing what I love.”
Designated player Haley Miller gave the Grizzlies fits as well, reaching twice on bunt singles that just died at the plate.
“We need to just stand 5 feet from the batter’s box each time we face her,” Chance quipped.
Mariah Wheeler and Anna Icenhower homered for Butler in the first game. Easton Head and Madison Grimes also homered for Hutch.
Butler has a doubleheader at Pratt on Wednesday, then returns home Thursday to face Independence in a doubleheader at East Park.