In a league of their own: Butler softball soaring on another level during 37-game winning streak
EL DORADO, Kansas—There's something to be said when a team celebrates getting a strikeout to start the inning as if they've won the game and then there is a team celebrating, they've already won the game.
That's the type of success we're seeing from Butler softball as we head into May.
This has been the standard set by Head Coach Doug Chance over the last decade. While teams treat each game with the Grizzlies (41-2) as if it's their own personal World Series, Butler has their mind on bigger aspirations. While that's no knock on what others in the Jayhawk can accomplish, but when you've won as many games as Butler has won in a row, you can set your goals to a loftier level.
"We use games to work on different pitches," Chance said. "Sometimes, I'll have them try new things or things we need to improve on; so, I'll call that pitch and sometimes it bites us and we give up a home run. We don't care. Our goal is to get better every game and we can't do that if we're not working on things in every game."
You saw some of that in a win over Independence, while the Pirates were celebrating a home run, Butler is improving their command and their speed control, with the aspirations of winning a national championship as the end goal.
"We have that end goal of winning a natty [national championship]," sophomore Shayna Espy said. "It's why we are all here at Butler."
It wasn't like that a season ago for Butler. While a core of their starters from this season return and are a large reason to their success, last season was anything but a shadow of this team's success.
Butler was 13-7 and experienced their first loss to Hutch in more than 13 seasons. Then, when COVID-19 takes away any chance that you may have had to get back to the national tournament, you're forced to overcome and adapt as a unit.
"There's no bickering this season," Sophomore Madi Young said. "We all get along so well."
For Butler, maybe COVID came at the right time. Time to reassess and become closer and the chemistry blossoms into something that has been fuel for the season. They also don't forget other teams talking about Butler's cut-short season, either.
"We heard them talking about how we lost six games last year and how this team is bad," Young said. "This year, we're like 'Okay, what's up?'"
A lot of that can be contributed to the addition of two new coaches, former Butler players in Kenzi Young and Morgan Bohanan. The two have been a breath of fresh air for the program and they bring a championship pedigree to the program, as both played on the teams who rolled off 88 consecutive wins.
"They hold us accountable," Espy said. 'Whether it's for classes or for whatever, as girls coaching girls, they are not just honest but they know how to talk to us and they are like the bigger sisters of the family."
Young, one of the most prolific batters in Butler history spent time at North Texas before joining Chance's staff. She's the older sibling of Madi Young. Madi broke Kenzi's school record for runs in a season and is close to tying Bohanan's school record for doubles in a season.
"Last year when we would get down, we wouldn't really be brought back into the game by other coaches," Young said. "This year, pretty much every game, come the fourth inning, and we're not swinging it well we get in a huddle and they tell us 'Hey this is what we need to fix; this is what you need to look for when you get to bat and make those adjustments.'"
Credit to Coach Chance for seeing there had to be adjustments and understand what those needed to be. For some coaches, they don't to have that hard talk and to make that change.
It's turning Butler back into that powerhouse that scared teams before. While teams chant summer ball chants from the dugout, Butler is focused on seeing the pitcher's tendencies or running the bases with passion.
"Coach tells us all the team to be the team that others want to be," Young said. "We expect the big strikeout from our pitchers and we expect to get the big hit."
The Grizzlies are one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, as they are top 10 in more than eight different offensive categories, including the second best batting average as a team (.439) and the nation's best on base percentage, which measures how often a player is to reach base, which includes: walks, hits and hit-by-pitch. Butler has an OB% of .509.
Not to be out done, but Butler's pitching staff ranks with the best as well. They have the fifth best ERA (2.03). They are the best in hits allowed and runs allowed.
All of the pitching starts with Maddie Redman, who is coming off an ACL injury last season and wasn't sure how it was going to be this season. Well, it's been nothing but gas for the sophomore from Blue Valley Southwest. Her 1.21 ERA is top 10 in the nation.
Redman was recently named National Pitcher of the Week for her performance. She is now 18-0 with only seven walks this season and four home runs allowed.
"Not a lot of people get this chance to bounce back," Redman said of coming off her ACL recovery. "I don't take any day for granted and I'm just thankful for the support system I've had here that got me back to playing."
"I don't have any stress when they [Butler batters]," Redman said. "Even if it's little 'duck farts' I know they know how to put it away."
Espy is third nationally in batting average (.556) and Emily Adler (.554) is fourth. Oh, Young is sixth (.552) heading into Thursday's game with independence.
So, if you can somehow hit Butler's pitching, you have to find a way to slow down the lineup that has three of the six players in the nation hitting over .550.
It's a pick your own poison for opposing pitchers.
If you're able to hit the pitchers, there's an outfield full of cannons waiting for you to try and run on them.
"A lot of teams will run once," Chance said. "They don't often run a second time after we throw them out."
It's the little things that has separated Butler from the rest of the league. From not panicking when teams put runners on second and third with no out. To a right fielder sending a missile from right field, leaving a runner stranded on third. It's the composure in those moments.
37 consecutive wins, already encroaching on of the largest winning streaks in junior college history second to Butler's 88-game winning streak. They've done it by run ruling teams, with 32 of the 41 wins coming by run rule.
"I remember we were down 3-0 in the first inning and I looked at Emily [Adler] and said "Why am I not even concerned?" There's no worry in my mind because I knew were were still going to run-rule them."
That's the confidence and composure of a team that's ready to win it all.
For now, Butler will focus on the larger goals of winning the Region VI tournament next week and the district tournament with the chance of heading to Yuma, Arizona for the national tournament in the final week of May.
"Since Day 1 when we break the huddle we've said "1-2-3 Zona," Young said.
"It's been our goal since day one [to win a national title]. We've come a long way."