Butler softball has high expectations heading into 2021

Charles Chaney
Butler County Times Gazette
The 2021 Butler CC Grizzlies softball team comes into the season ranked No. 11 in the NJCAA Preseason poll.

Last season: 13-7

Head Coach: Doug Chance (673-169), 17th season

It’s easy to buy-in to coaches who hype their team up when you write a preseason preview on their squad. The coaches sound full of energy and optimism. However, the buy-in should be real with the Butler Grizzlies’ softball team. 

Butler returns a large portion of last year’s team that found themselves hot at the right time. They won seven of their last eight games, while playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation before COVID hit. 

If it wasn’t for the pandemic, we could have been talking another trip back to Utah for this team. However, we’re left to focus on the 2021 team.

One thing to note, the NJCAA gave everyone who played last year an extra year. They’ve also gone and extended that to sports again this season. 

However, when you look at this roster, the Kansas influence is high, as it is with most of the Butler teams. The school does not shy away from keeping kids in state. 

“We want to win with the Kansas gets,” Butler head coach Doug Chance said. “You can say it’s a pride thing,”

For Butler, they have 15 of their 22 players are from Kansas. It’s a stark comparison to year’s past when the rosters. You have to go back to 2013 to see a team that had more than 11 local players. 

“We like to try and get the best Kansas kids we can,” Chance said. “We start in Kansas and then go fill in the gaps in other places.”

Last year’s Butler team when it came to a halt was hot as stated agove. Their 12.1 runs per game, ranked 18th nationally in runs per game (8.7) and second in the KJCCC, only behind Hutch (10.0). When it came to conference only, the Grizzlies easily had the best at almost 13 runs per game.  

The Grizzlies once again head to Texas to begin their season. They’ll play San Jacinto South (TX), who coming into the weekend is 5-1, with two wins over preseason No. 2 Chipola (FL). They’ll also play Coastal Bend (TX) and Trinity Valley (TX) to wrap up the weekend. 

Next week, they head back to the Lone Star State and will player fourth-ranked Tyler (TX) JC, 17th-ranked DII, Murray State (OK), North Central Texas College and Weatherford (TX) College.

North Central Texas ended Butler's 39-game winning streak three years ago with a 12-12 loss.

They have their first home games against Friends University on Feb. 23, a double header against their JV team. The first real opponent comes March 9 against Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa, a school about 90 minutes south of El Dorado.  

“We always try to play a tough schedule early,” Chance said. “Meaning, there may be some hiccups along the way.”

Last season, the Grizzlies played the 14th toughest schedule in the nation, it should be no difference this season. However, the Grizzlies have realistic expectations as it will have been 324 days between games. 

“You have to keep in mind we’ve only had two outdoor practices,” Chance said. “We’re going to play San-Jac [San-Jacinto South], who’s played six games already, there may be some rhythm issues.”

That said, the expectations are high for the Grizzlies in hopes to returning to national dominance. They’re ranked 11th in the preseason Top 20 and are the overwhelming favorites to win the Jayhawk Conference. 

“Those preseason polls are a tribute to what this team has done,” Chance said. “We’ll get a better look when the next poll comes out.”

The Grizzlies are defending their four straight Region VI’s Championships. They’ve won it every year since 2015. That was also the last time Butler lost more than eight games in a season.

The highly ranked Grizzlies are going to be deep this season. Coach Chance said 1-22 could step in and provide production this season and they will be very deep on the mound after having an almost 5.00 ERA last season. 

“When our pitching is sorted out and they find their groove, we’re going to be dominant in the circle,” Chance said.

Butler’s pitching rotation could go five deep with the return of Hannah Knox (5.30 ERA in 13 appearances last season) and Brooke McCorckle (Mississippi Valley State transfer). You’ll add in redshirt pitcher, Maddie Redman, who took the redshirt due to an ACL injury. She is expected to be back at some point this season. She was the projected No. 1 pitcher last year before the injury. Also, So. Kelsie Kippes (Rossville, KS) and Izzy Erickson (Kimberling City, Mo.) will see time. 

“We’re deep 1-9,” Chance said. “I would not want to face our hitting lineup once we get our rhythm.”

Coach Chance overhauled the coaching staff this past offseason and you can read about the two additions here.

McCorckle, who is from Wellington, Kansas, isn’t just known for her pitching. The Grizzlies expect her to be a power at bat and help the Grizzlies stretch the outfield to the fence.

“Let’s just say this, in my 17 years of coaching, Brooke McCorckle is one of the most feared hitters I’ve ever had.”

Butler will welcome in Ari Cordova from Otero JC, where she was a first team All-American in 2019. She had a .556 batting average last season in nine games with Otero. With the NJCAA giving everyone an extended year, she’ll return for her sophomore season once again. During her freshman year at Otero, she hit .569 and had 19 home runs and had 73 RBIs. She also stole 34 bases in 144 plate appearances.

Madi Young, sister and daughter of assistant coaches Kenzie Young and Darren Young, is expected to be a prime contributor for Butler. She played 20 games for Butler last season as a freshman and second highest batting average with a .432 average and stole 23 bases, also a team high. She was a first team All-State selection as a senior at Derby HS and on pace to be an All-American for Butler.

Annah Icenhower (Yukon, OK) and Shayne Espy (Olathe, KS) will are two names you probably know if you follow Butler softball. Both players return for their third years at Butler with the extension from the NJCAA. Espy has a career .326 batting average, while Icenhower has a .378 average.

Emily Adler (Derby, KS), Sydney Adler (Derby, KS), Tadum Soetaert (Wichita, KS) and Jayrn Benning (Topeka, KS) all return from last year’s team as well. Emily Adler averaged .385 in 20 games. She had 14 RBIs and stole seven bases. Sydney Adler appeared in 18 games, with a batting average of .394. She had six RBIs and six stolen bases.

“That said, we may start slow this year but by March we should be plowing through teams,” Chance said.

You can see why it’s easy to buy-in to a program like this which talks with such confidence. You know they’re going to win and win big.

KJCCC DI Coaches poll

East Division (2020 records)

  1. Butler (13-7)
  2. Barton (10-9)
  3. Hutchinson (18-6)
  4. Independence (3-13)
  5. Pratt (3-22)

West Division

  1. Seward County (7-7)
  2. Colby (9-13)
  3. Dodge City (10-4)
  4. Garden City (11-13)
  5. NW Kansas Tech (1-14)

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.