Grizzly baseball wants to continue last year’s success
Butler returns 17 players from last year's 15-4 team.
Last season: 15-4
Head Coach: BJ McVay (240-221), 17th season
Preseason pick: 5th KJCCC West
It’s hard to believe a year ago Butler baseball assaulted Des Moines CC by a school record 30 runs. Butler only played 19 games last year before it all ended. They were 7-3 in their last 10 games and had won 15 of the 19. It felt like a special season was on the brink.
Then, COVID happened.
It’s a story told too many times by different programs throughout the nation. For Butler, it felt especially tough for how strong they were playing. They were the reigning divisional champions – and since no one actually won the league last year, they still are – and hope was to win another.
“Last year was tough,” Butler Head Coach BJ McVay said. “We were doing so good and then it was just taken away.”
The offseason has been anything but routine. While many schools spent their time playing a fall schedule of scrimmages like normal, Butler sat at home, going through their 60-day workout like most schools, just continuing with the intrasquad scrimmages.
“We haven’t seen another team since March of last year,” McVay said. “We didn’t even get to hit the weight room.”
During the most stringent protocols, the baseball team was unfortunately not allowed to use the football team’s facility, where the weight room is located.
“My guys are resilient,” McVay said. “They signed up and got YMCA memberships and worked out on their own.”
Despite the NJCAA giving everyone an extra year of eligibility, the Grizzlies return only three sophomores from last year’s team. They will look to replace their entire infield as well. The unlimited scholarships helps the Grizzlies in their depth.
Austin Portner (Northern State (SD)), Dylan Werries (Emporia State), Thomas Beiswanger (Northwestern Oklahoma State) and Colby Standard (Midland College (TX)) are off to their new journeys.
Brandon Ryan is out indefinitely as he fights off cancer in Oklahoma City. He was the first basemen and cleanup hitter for the Grizzlies last season.
That doesn’t mean Butler has left the cupboard bare. They return some power and some experience from last year's team starting with Jackson Syring and Noah Argenta. The two have taken the leadership roles and ran with it.
Argenta, one of the sophomores who have returned this season is seeing growth beyond what was expected. Argenta has already committed to Central Arkansas following his time at Butler. He will be the main catcher for the Grizzlies this season. He batted .310 in 29 at bats last season with one home run and seven RBIs.
“A guy who’s split time for two years and now he’s going to catch 90 percent of the games,” McVay said.
Syring, who will have his brother at Butler next year, was one of the best hitters in the nation last season with the .361 average in 61 plate appearances. He was surprisingly, one of the most hit batters as well, ranking fifth nationally with 10 hit by pitches.
He’s expected to lead off and be the “on base” guy for the Grizzlies.
Josh Cameron also returns for Butler. He had the memorable grand slam against Des Moines in 30-13 win on Feb. 21, 2020. While his averages were lower, the Grizzlies can expect more out of the returning sophomore.
Another returning name to watch for is centerfielder, Bryce Zimmerer. As a freshman, he batted .324 in 14 games. Zimmerer is strong and can really run.
As for pitching, the Grizzlies are locked and loaded on the mound with Nate Adler returning to the bump this season. Dillan Janak is at Central Arkansas, leaving Adler the spot to take the No. 1 role this season.
“I think our arms are going to be pretty good,” McVay said. “We only lost two guys from last year and we added 4-5 guys who we really like.”
Last year, Adler was 4-0 in four starters with a 4.50 ERA. He had 20 strikes out 22 innings pitched.
Barden Meek, Garrett DeHaas and Zach Nagel both return from last year's rotation and should see playing time this season.
Butler also has added Haysville-Campus’ Tanner Leslie to the roster. He helped the Colts to 22-2 record his junior season. The Colts had high expectations heading into last season. Over the summer, Leslie pitched for the NBC team, Rose Hill Sluggers.
Braxton Hyde from Liberal, Kansas will be another freshman to keep an eye on.
The Grizzlies were picked to finish fifth in the preseason coach’s poll, or Predicted Order of Finish, which the KJCCC calls it.
“That doesn’t mean much to us,” McVay said. “We’re picked fifth every year and then two years ago we win the division. So, I don’t pay much attention to that.”
Through our research, Butler was picked fourth in the preseason in 2020 and fifth in 2019.
Unlike in basketball, where there are a handful of Division II teams, all but one Jayhawk Conference team, Hesston, is Division I. It provides for some tough competition as Hutchinson is always a tough out and Barton was ranked in the final poll of the season last year.
Out on the East side of the conference has national powerhouse, Cowley. Along with Johnson County and Kansas City CC.
“That is always tough with Johnson and Cowley,” McVay said. “Even KCK gives you a head ache when playing.”
For the Jayhawk Conference, only Cowley garnered any national rankings, coming in at No. 9 in the preseason rankings.
Cowley and Johnson County will be with new head coaches this season after Dave Burroughs announced his retirement at the end of last season.
For McVay, he’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. The longtime head coach feels comfortable at Butler and has found a winning formula to keeping the win train moving.
“It’s home,” McVay said. “My family is here – I married a Kansas girl and my kid has friends here. Plus, the people are great. They treat you well.”
McVay enters his 17th season at Butler and his 11th as the skipper. He came to Butler in 2004 after a coaching stint at his alma mater, Southeastern Oklahoma State. He’s been the head man since 2011.
During his time, he’s amassed 240-221 record while at Butler. Over the last three seasons, he’s helped Butler win 89 games and a share of the 2019 West Divisional crown.
He credits a lot of his success to recruiting good guys but also McDonald Stadium.
“I love playing at our place,” McVay said. “It’s just such a cool stadium to play at.”
It’s shown, too. Butler went 9-0 at home last season and are 53-16 in the last three seasons at home 53-16. Since 2012, Butler is 149-79 at McDonald Stadium.
“With our schedule, getting to come home to play two games after either you beat a team on their field or you lost two games can mean all the difference,” McVay said.
Butler also added Taylor Sangorski as a new assistant coach. He comes over from Newman and will manage the infielders.
“You know, we had a tough time filling the role and I reached out to Robbie Rea and asked if he knew of any infield guys,” McVay said. “He called me back the next day and said ‘man, he’s not an infield guy but I think he’d do a great job and it was Taylor Sangorski.”
As a former catcher, Sangorski has fit in well with the Grizzlies program.
“We didn’t skip a beat from Gus [Strunk] to him [Sangorski],” McVay said. “We’re very fortunate to get him.”
The schedule has been tough of Butler as they had to cancel their first set of games that were scheduled for Friday, Feb. 19 due to weather. They are expected to play in Edmond, Oklahoma against Seminole State (OK), a team that has won 39 games or more over the last seven full seasons. Then, they will play nationally ranked, Crowder College at 6:30 p.m.
They return on to play Cowley in their first conference series starting on Thursday, Feb. 25 on the road. They open up McDonald Stadium at 1 p.m. on Saturday to finish out the series.
“We’re just happy we can get out and play,” McVay said. “We’ve been waiting for this.”