EL DORADO — Kelsey Berlin sent the text message out to her teammates last Wednesday.
She told them her father, Tim, had a heart attack on Sunday in Wichita and, after being on life support for four days, had passed away earlier that day.
She apologized for leaving without explanation, and she apologized for the practices she missed.
The next day, the freshman right fielder for the Butler Community College softball team was back in El Dorado, getting ready for the Region VI Tournament in Wichita.
“I’ve had some time to process what happened, and even with that I still think about it a lot,” Berlin said. “My teammates told me to take my time but I felt like I needed to be there.”
Butler would go on to win the Region VI title – going 3-1 on Sunday to advance to next week’s NJCAA World Series in St. George, Utah.
“She wanted to get back on the field … I guess she wanted something normal … something comfortable,” Butler coach Doug Chance said. “She is so tough. I don’t know what else I can say about her … she has worked so hard for us this year.”
Berlin, a Wichita Northwest product, is one of four former City League standouts that, as freshmen, have guided the Grizzlies to the Jayhawk West title, Region VI title and back to Utah for the second straight year and fourth time under Chance, who is in his eighth season.
“Early on, we put the focus on learning something from every practice, from every loss and from every win,” Chance said.
Pitcher Mac Millspaugh, also from Northwest, leads the Grizzlies with a 19-8 record, 1.69 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 169 innings pitched. Twin sister Alex is Butler’s catcher. East product Ashley Malone plays shortstop and leads the team in batting with a .423 average and 48 RBIs. Berlin is hitting .351 with 45 RBIs and five home runs.
The Millspaughs and Berlin have been playing together since the sixth grade.
“Mac has been absolutely dominant,” Chance said. “Creighton, Northern Iowa and Louisiana-Lafayette have all already called about her. LSU, Oklahoma State and Missouri have done the same for Ashley.”
The death of Berlin’s father was the latest – and toughest – test for the Grizzlies. Three Butler players from last year’s team went Division I after just one season, and a rash of injuries forced Chance to go with a lineup almost entirely of freshmen.
“I think we had a lot to learn as far as the process of what it took to win games,” Mac Millspaugh said. “At the beginning of the season we were just interested in outcomes. We had to learn what it takes.”
Butler started the year 15-12 before winning 25 of 28 games, including Sunday’s charge to the Region VI title, where the Grizzlies opened up the day with a 2-0 loss to Garden City.
The loss meant they had to win three straight games to win Region VI.
After beating Colby 2-0 and nursing a 1-0 lead with two outs in the top of the sixth inning against Garden City, Berlin tracked a fly ball through the sky and into foul territory at Wichita State’s Wilkins Stadium.
“I kept hearing ‘you’ve got room, you’ve got room’ ” Berlin said. “I guess I didn’t have that much room.”
Berlin leaped in the air, stretching her 5-foot-7 frame up and over the right-field wall, smashing her knees through the wooden fence … and coming down to earth with the third out nestled safely in her glove.
Butler held on for the 1-0 win then beat the Broncbusters 4-1 for the championship. Millspaugh pitched three complete games — 21 innings — on the day. First-round matchups for the NJCAA World Series will be released Sunday.
“I was kind of in shock … I didn’t realize I’d broken the fence because I ran right into it as I caught the ball,” Berlin said. “My dad really loved sports … he was a boxer when he was younger and he loved watching me and my older sister play softball. I think he would have liked that.”