Butler softball shows no rust in sweep of San Jacinto
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – After nearly an 11-month layoff from competing on the field due to COVID-19, it would have been understood if Butler softball came out with some rust during Friday’s season opening doubleheader against San Jacinto-South (Texas).
With last year’s regular season halted in mid-March due to the pandemic, Butler was forced to continue its absence from the field with no fall exhibition games against NCAA Division I teams, which Grizzly head coach Doug Chance typically schedules in preparation for the spring.
San Jacinto (5-3) already had six games under their belt, including a pair of victories over No. 2 Chipola (Fla.) last weekend in Louisiana. However, it was the 11th-ranked Grizzlies who appeared to be the more polished team overall during the opening games played at St. Mary’s University
The Grizzlies started the 2021 season with an offensive explosion in a 12-3 five-inning, run-rule victory in the opener, then held on to a 7-6 Game 2 win behind a pair of home runs from in-state freshman Brooke McCorkle.
“I think that’s one benefit of COVID cancellation that we couldn’t play any fall games, so we did a lot more player development stuff,” said Chance, who begins his 17th season as head coach. “The bad thing was we weren’t able to compete to see where we were at. The good thing is there was a lot more development time.”
Despite the extended break, the trio of returners – Madi Young, Emily Adler and Shayna Espy – fueled Butler’s offense with a combined 10-for-14 at the plate and scoring 11 of the Grizzlies’ 19 runs in the doubleheader.
“Since we came back in January (for team workouts), I really felt like those three met the challenges we presented them in practice,” Chance said. “We challenge our kids in practice every day to the point where if they aren’t failing enough, then we aren’t making it hard enough.
“Everything we threw at them, we couldn’t get them to fail,” he added. “I think when everybody finds their rhythm and timing, it’s going to be fun to watch. It’s going to be fireworks.
Missouri freshman pitcher Izzy Erickson also sparkled in her debut for the Grizzlies, earning a Game 1 win and a save in the second game.
Butler (2-0) will play two more games in San Antonio today against Texas junior college teams. The Grizzlies face Coastal Bend at 11:15 a.m., then battle Trinity Valley at 1:30 p.m.
Game 1 – Butler 12, San Jacinto 3
Erickson worked her way out of a first-inning jam after the Coyotes loaded the bases with one out, getting a strikeout and an infield lineout to shortstop Madi Young.
Butler wasted no time to get on the scoreboard as Emily Adler and Ari Cordova each drove in a run for a 2-0 lead. Young led off the inning with a bloop single to left, then scored on an Adler double to left-center. Adler, who moved to third on a throwing error on the play, came home on a Cordova groundout.
With a 3-1 lead, the Grizzlies broke the game wide open with an eight-run third inning by sending 12 batters to the plate. Adler smacked an RBI double to right field to score Espy for the opening run. After San Jacinto recorded two outs, Hannah Knox drove in two runs with a single through the left side of the infield.
Anna Icenhower followed Knox by crushing a 1-0 pitch over the left-field fence – the Grizzlies’ first home run of the season – and a 7-1 lead. Butler added four more runs after a San Jacinto pitching change, with Espy delivering a two-run triple and Young driving in Espy with an RBI single. Young scored the final run of the inning just before Emily Adler was thrown out an attempt to stretch a single into a double.
The Grizzlies added a late run in the fourth inning when Cordova scored from third on a delayed double steal.
Adler went 3-for-3 with three RBIs, two doubles and two runs scored, while Young hit 2-for-2 and scored a team-high three runs. Knox, Icenhower and Espy each drove in two runs. Erickson allowed one unearned run on four hits and struck out four.
Game 2 – Butler 7, San Jacinto 6
San Jacinto was the early offensive aggressor in the second game, as the Coyotes took a 3-0 lead after the first inning. Grizzly starter Hannah Knox allowed three extra-base hits to start the frame, leading with an Audrey Cantu triple. Cantu scored on a Jules Garcia RBI double, then Alexis Uresti clocked a two-run homer.
After Knox retired the next three batters to end the inning, Butler’s defense kept the Coyotes off the scoreboard over the next two frames. San Jacinto’s Gabby Cantu lined out into an inning-ending double play in the second, hitting a line drive right at the third baseman Cordova, who then fired to second base to nab a retreating runner. The Grizzlies flashed the leather in the third inning with a Shayna Espy diving grab in left-center. Two batters later with runners at first and second, Cordova knocked down a rocket line drive for an unassisted force-out at third.
Butler tied the contest at 3-all in the top of the third on a two-run homer from McCorkle. Madi Young started the scoring by hitting a one-out double, stole third while San Jacinto’s defense napped after an Emily Adler walk, then scored on a Cordova sacrifice bunt.
McCorkle’s three-run homer – her second of the game – helped the Grizzlies take a 7-3 lead in the fourth inning.
With one out in the inning, Butler loaded the bases behind a pair of walks and a Young single. Cordova hit a pop-up to shallow left that dropped in between two Coyote fielders, allowing Espy to score from third base. McCorkle then delivered the three-run blast on the first pitch to increase Butler’s lead.
San Jacinto answered back with three runs in the bottom of the fourth to pull within a run. Knox allowed the first two runners on base before being replaced by Erickson in the circle. The move initially backfired, as Erickson served up an RBI double to the first hitter. After a 6-2-5 rundown erased a runner for the inning’s first out, Erickson corked a wild pitch to bring in a run, then San Jacinto’s Tabby Burnett clubbed an RBI double to narrow the margin to 7-6.
Erickson escaped further damage with a groundout and flyout to end the inning. The freshman was then able to locate her pitches the rest of the way, allowing just one single over the final three innings en-route to her first collegiate save.
“I didn’t want to have to use her twice on Day 1, but she didn’t throw a ton of pitches in the first game. It took her a few pitches to find her command (in Game 2), but she’s the real deal and she’s only going to get better and better.”
McCorkle, who drove in five runs, and Young were the only multi-hit performers for Butler in the second game. Young went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored.
Knox tossed three innings and allowed four runs on five hits, walked two and did not strike out a batter. Erickson threw the final four innings for the save, giving up two runs on just two hits.
NOTES: Under Chance, Butler improves its overall record to 5-2 all-time against San Jacinto-South. The teams last played in 2015… The Grizzlies’ 12 runs in Game 1 were the most in a season opener since a 17 victory over Northeast Texas on Jan. 28, 2017.