Butler Grizzlies softball run-rules Three Rivers, 12-4, setting up showdown with Florida SouthWestern

Randy Smith
Big R Sports
Butler's Shayna Espy (5) celebrates with teammate Myah Johnson during a four-run fifth inning in the Grizzlies' 12-4 victory over Three Rivers (Mo.) on Wednesday at the NJCAA National Tournament.

YUMA, Arizona – A combination of speed and small ball helped No. 2 Butler advance to the quarterfinals at the NJCAA National Tournament, as the Grizzlies earned their second straight run-rule victory Wednesday evening with a 12-4 five-inning win over 10th-seeded Three Rivers (Mo.) at Yuma’s Pacific Avenue Athletic Complex.

Sydney Adler scored a game-high three runs while going 2-for-2, while her twin sister Emily drove in three runs in the victory for Butler (51-2 overall), who squares off against third-seeded Florida SouthWestern State (46-4) at 2:00 p.m. Central time in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.

Winners of 47 straight games, the Grizzlies are one of four teams to remain undefeated heading into the quarterfinals. With consecutive run-rule wins under their belt to start the tourney, it feels if Butler’s confidence level keeps rising with each victory.

“It feels really good to still be in that winner’s bracket,” said Emily Adler. “We’re a really good team and we want to play really good teams. It’s nice, but we’re ready for the next one to step up. Our team is ready.”

Five of Butler’s 12 hits against Three Rivers came off infield singles. Even when the Grizzlies were making infield outs, the small-ball approach and the awareness on the base paths allowed Butler to keep pressure on the Raiders’ defense – either by scoring runs or moving runners into scoring position.

“I told the team before the game that we’re going in two-strike mode from the get-go,” Chance said. “Every pitch, we’re in two-strike mode, shorten up and a ball in play is going to win. With these fields, that’s what you got to do. You’re not going to play the long ball. When you hit one, It’s a bonus, but we’re not shooting for that.”

Three Rivers had the upper hand early after Butler starter Maddie Redman allowed a leadoff single to Jennifer Morey, then Molly Spangler belted an RBI double down the left-field line. An errant throw back into the infield allowed Spangler to score on the play for a 2-0 Raiders lead.

Butler answered with a six-run second inning to take command of the game. Mariah Wheeler received a four-pitch walk to lead off, then scored all the way from first base on a throwing error after Brooke McCorkle hit a sharp grounder to Three Rivers third baseman Kyla Puckett. The throw from Puckett sailed up the right-field line and allowed Wheeler to score Butler’s first run.

Two batters later, Myah Johnson dropped in an RBI double just under the glove of Raiders left fielder Blair Quarles. With the game tied at 2-all, Butler’s next three hitters – lefties Sydney Adler, Madi Young and Shayna Espy – all reached on infield singles, with Young hitting a high chopper to shortstop to drive in pinch runner Tadum Soetaert for the lead.

“They were giving it to us, so we were just reading the defense and taking advantage of what we could, said Emily Adler. “They weren’t really respecting our lefties and our speed, so we just laid it down and they were able to get to first.”

“We’ve got some speed on the team and you’ve got to do what you got to do to get on,” said Sydney Adler. “They couldn’t deal with it, so we just laid it down and kept going.”

After Espy hit an infield single to third base to load the bases, Emily Adler hit an RBI groundout to plate her sister for another run. Ari Cordova then delivered a two-run bloop double over Three Rivers shortstop Molly Spangler for a 6-2 lead.

In the Butler fourth, the Grizzlies benefited from two wild pitches from Raiders reliever Kindi Puckett, leading to two runs in the inning. Three Rivers starter Makale Floyd hit Sydney Adler with a pitch to lead off the inning, forcing a pitching change to Puckett. With Madi Young batting, Puckett uncorked a wild pitch on her first throw, moving Adler to second.

After a walk to Young, Puckett again was wild on an 0-1 pitch to Shayna Espy, moving both runners in scoring position with no outs. Espy and Sydney Adler both followed with RBI groundouts to the middle infield for an 8-3 lead.

Three Rivers snagged a run back in the top of the fifth with a Lauren Joyner two-out RBI single to center, but Butler delivered the knockout blow in the next inning with four runs seven consecutive batters reached base behind six singles and a throwing error.

Knox and pinch hitter Gentry Shepherd hit consecutive singles to lead off the inning and place runners at the corners. Both runners would score when Myah Johnson reached on a Joyner throwing error to first, with Johnson advancing to third on the play.

Following a pitching change, Sydney Adler hit a single to left to drive in Johnson. Young and Espy then perfectly executed consecutive bunt singles to load the bases for Emily Adler, who ended the game by scoring her sister on a walk-off RBI single through the right side of the infield.

Four players – Young, Espy, Cordova and Sydney Adler – finished with two hits in the contest, while Young and Knox scored two runs each.

Keeping the same strategy as the first game, Chance went with the 1-2 pitching punch by starting Redman and bringing in Izzy Erickson in relief. Redman picked up her team-high 26th win by throwing the first three innings, giving up two earned runs on six hits and striking out two. Erickson tossed the final two innings and allowed one run on two hits, walked two and fanned three batters.

Through two games, Redman has thrown only 85 pitches over seven innings, while Erickson is at just 54 pitches in four innings of work.

“Neither one of them had their best stuff today, but they’re both good enough to be very challenging for other teams,” Chance said about the pitching duo. “It’s working great because we’re saving a lot of wear-and-tear on their arms. The fact that we can run-rule twice and minimizing their pitch counts, it gives us a big advantage over the other teams.”

Butler will be facing a familiar opponent in Florida Southwestern State. The two teams have met on the national stage in 2016 and 2018, with the Grizzlies winning both contests – including a memorable 5-4, 15-inning victory during the second round of the 2016 tournament.

The Buccaneers rallied from an 11-4 deficit after 3½ innings and scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh for a 14-13 win over Seminole State (Okla.). Butler and Florida Southwestern are the only two teams out of the 16-team field to score 10 or more runs in its first two games, with the Bucs scoring 27 runs in their two victories.

In the other quarterfinal matchup, two Texas schools will do battle as fifth-seeded Grayson (44-5) plays eighth-seeded San Jacinto-South (42-8) at noon CST. San Jacinto knocked off top-seeded Salt Lake (Utah) in a 6-2 win, while Grayson needed a two-run homer from Hailey Vess in the top of the eighth inning for a 4-2 victory over Wallace State (Ala.).

NOTES: Butler improved to 22-16 all-time in NJCAA Tournament games. Since 2016, the Grizzlies are 16-4 in NJCAA tournament games… The Grizzlies are 1-1 vs. Three Rivers under Chance… Wednesday’s second-round win marks the fourth time in the last five national tournaments that Butler has won its first two games. Butler also won its first two games by run-rule during the 2017 title run, beating Snead State (Ala.) 9-1 and Howard (Texas) 15-3 in a pair of five-inning games.