Butler Grizzlies softball avenges loss, run-rules Trinity Valley, 10-2

Randy Smith
Big R Sports

YUMA, Arizona – When the bracket matchups for the NJCAA Division I National Tournament were revealed last Thursday, the Butler Grizzly softball squad was eager to deliver some payback against Tuesday's opening-round opponent, the 15th-seeded Trinity Valley Cardinals from Texas.

After all, the Cardinals handed Butler one of its two losses on the season with a 7-3 defeat during a season-opening tournament in San Antonio back on January 30th. Riding a 45-game winning streak into nationals, the Grizzlies not only kept their streak alive, but earned their revenge over Trinity Valley with a 10-2 run-rule victory in six innings at Yuma's Pacific Avenue Athletic Complex.

Butler (50-2 overall) grabbed the early momentum in the second inning with a 4-0 lead, then distanced itself from Trinity (33-14) when Grizzly freshman Mariah Wheeler tacked on a three-run homer as part of a five-run fifth inning.

"We were so excited to play this team, because they were probably coming in here thinking ‘Oh, we’ve already beat this team’ but they beat a completely different team than we are now," said Wheeler, who drove in four runs while hitting 2-for-4 in the contest. 

Now winners of 46 straight games, Butler moves into Wednesday’s second round against 10th-seeded Three Rivers (Mo.) at 6:00 p.m. Central time. Three Rivers (43-4) defeated #7 Yavapai (36-6) 7-4, with the Raiders using a six-run sixth inning to break a 1-1 tie and advance in the winner’s bracket. 

“Obviously, it’s always nice to avenge a loss, but I knew that (Trinity is) a different team now and I knew we were as well,” said Butler head coach Doug Chance about the first-round victory.

Two players who were not a factor in the January meeting – Wheeler and starting pitcher Maddie Redman – proved to be difference makers for the Grizzlies on Tuesday night.

Swinging at a .733 clip over the Grizzlies’ last five games, Wheeler continued to be one of Butler’s top offensive weapons. Her RBI single jumpstarted the four-run second inning, then the freshman added a home run for a 7-2 Grizzly lead in the fifth.

“I feel like I’m just seeing the ball really well,” Wheeler said. “When I was up there, I was like ‘I’m getting a hit for my teammates. I’m scoring a run’ because we want to get out of this game."

Redman, who was inactive for the January meeting due to recovering from knee surgery, was sharp in her four innings of action. The freshman struck out seven batters, allowed just three hits and walked one while picking up her team-high 25th win of the season. Her only mistake of the contest was a solo home run to Trinity’s Jenna Johnson in the third inning.   

More:Butler County regional schedules and results for baseball, softball and soccer

Meanwhile, Trinity not only appeared like a different squad from the first meeting against Butler, but the Cardinals elected to throw a different starting pitcher as well in freshman Rosaury Perez, who was tagged for eight earned runs on six hits in 4⅓ innings. 

“We didn’t really hit her hard early, but the ball just bounced our way,” Chance said. “We got some good bounces on some balls we hit that got by their outfield because of the way the ball was spinning. Sometimes that’s what it takes to win some of these games.” 

After a scoreless first, Trinity left the bases loaded in the top of the second as Redman recorded three of her seven strikeouts, while Butler’s offense benefited from those bounces during a four-run frame.

Ari Cordova opened the Grizzly second with a walk, stole second and moved to third on a throwing error. With one out, Wheeler delivered an RBI single past third base to bring home Cordova, who matched a season-high with three runs scored in the win. 

Anna Icenhower followed with an RBI triple, getting a generous bounce on the hard outfield on what would have likely been a single. With heavy backspin on the fly ball, it took a turn past Trinity’s Johnson in right field, which allowed Wheeler to score easily.  

After a walk to Myah Johnson to put runners at the corners, Butler subbed in pinch runners Gentry Shepherd and Tadum Soetaert at third and first base, respectively. Sydney Adler kept the scoring going by driving in Shepherd with a single up the middle, then an overthrow back to the infield by Trinity left fielder Destiny Torres after a flyout moved both Soetaert and Adler into scoring position.  

Previously:Butler softball sweeps Trinidad State for sixth straight trip to nationals

Shayna Espy, who went 3-for-4 with two RBIs in the contest, made Trinity pay for the mistake with an RBI bloop single to left to score Soetaert before the inning ended. 

The Cardinals managed to slice Butler’s lead in half after 4½ innings with Johnson’s solo homer in the third, then Perez added an RBI single in the fifth inning against Grizzly reliever Izzy Erickson. 

But the momentum for Trinity was short-lived after consecutive hit-by-pitches to Emily Adler and Cordova opened the Grizzly fifth. After Knox moved both runners over on a sacrifice bunt, Wheeler came to the plate. Facing a 1-2 count from Perez, Wheeler called for time, but home plate umpire Larry Morgan did not grant the request. Instead, Wheeler jumped on a fastball and went down to a knee as the ball sailed over the right-center fence.

“It was amazing, and I wasn’t even expecting it,” said Wheeler about the home run. “I was asking the umpire for time since (Perez) was taking a really long time in the circle. He wasn’t giving it to me, so I was like ‘Ok, I’ve got to just be ready’ and then it kind of just happened.” 

Butler added a pair of two-out runs off reliever Jalissa Alicea in the inning, as Madi Young hit an RBI double to score Icenhower, while Espy’s third hit of the game plated Myah Johnson. Icenhower ended the game in the sixth with a two-out single to drive in Cordova for the run-rule victory. 

“Coming out here and not letting up, it shows that even if a team does come back, we still have the heart to keep going,” said Icenhower, who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and one run scored.

NOTES: Butler improved to 7-4 in NJCAA opening-round tournament games. The Grizzlies are now 21-16 all-time in NJCAA Tournament games… Under Chance, Butler is now 6-2 against Trinity Valley and snapped a two-game losing streak against the Cardinals. Tuesday’s meeting was the first time Butler had faced Trinity in the national tourney.