Butler softball ready to play its way to nationals

05/08/2013 1:15 PM

05/08/2013 8:46 PM

There is a warning in there somewhere, for Otero Junior College or for any team that the No. 1 Butler Community College softball team might play in the next two weeks.

The Grizzlies are ready to play anyone, anywhere and at any time.

And that’s a scary thought.

“We don’t let people slip up,” said sophomore pitcher Maggie Ham, the Jayhawk West MVP. “We seem to have pretty good focus even when we end up in close games we thought we would win pretty easily.”

Butler (48-2) is on a 25-game winning streak and plays Otero in La Junta, Colo., on Thursday for the District E Championship and a spot in the NJCAA Division I Tournament on May 15-18 in St. George, Utah. The District E title will be decided in a best-of-three format, with two games on Thursday and another game on Friday if needed.

Butler defeated Otero 11-0 on April 13 at the Colby Invitational. Otero is the Region IX champion out of the Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming junior colleges. For the first time, the Region VI champion out of the Kansas junior colleges and the Region IX champion play each other for a bid to nationals after the NJCAA decided the Texas schools needed a fourth team in St. George.

“It’s nice to have an automatic bid come out of Kansas, but I guess the silver lining is that in the past we’d end up sitting for 10 days before the national tournament,” Butler coach Doug Chance said. “And you sit that long, you get cold. Now, if we can win (at Otero) we will only sit for six or seven days.”

Butler is trying for a third straight trip to nationals, and has a roster filled with Division I talent led by Wichita State transfer and Andale product Syd Stuever, Ham and freshman catcher Kate James.

The Grizzlies placed seven players on the All-Jayhawk West team: shortstop Ashley Malone, third baseman Kaitlyn Wolken, utility player Kelsey Berlin, outfielder Dommi Onelio, Ham, James and Stuever, an outfielder. Chance was named coach of the year and James was the freshman of the year. Three more Butler players, including Creighton-bound pitcher Mac Millspaugh (16-0, 91 IP, 109 strikeouts, 1.23 ERA) made second team.

Butler beat Seward 1-0 on Sunday for the Region VI title on a sacrifice fly from Alex Millspaugh in the seventh inning.

“We can’t take it for granted that we beat Otero last time … they may came at us with a different strategy, might figure out how to hit our pitchers,” Chance said. “Everything changes the second time around. I just don’t think we have the ability to coast … if this team has shown me one thing this year it is that they are very, very competitive. They hate to lose.”

And they love to put up big numbers. Ham, who has signed with Oklahoma, is 26-1 in 144 1/3 innings with 243 strikeouts and a 1.36 ERA. She’s third in the nation in strikeouts and first in strikeouts per game at 11.9. Stuever leads the Grizzlies with a .467 batting average, 70 hits and 15 doubles.

James is third on the team with a .441 average and leads Butler with 22 home runs and 70 RBIs. Butler has a team batting average of .402.

And, they’ve spent a season packed three-deep in all three rows in vans trekking across the Midwest and Texas since the beginning of February. They’ll get a slight upgrade in their travel arrangements for this trip — they’ve rented out Eminem’s old tour bus from Village Charters. The bus sleeps 25, has three flat screen televisions, satellite television, Wi-Fi, a full kitchen and two bathrooms.

“We know each other pretty well at this point,” said James, a Maize product who already has offers from Arkansas and Texas-Arlington. “We think this is a great opportunity to play a team we’ve already played and see how they’ve gotten better, to see if we’ve gotten any better.

“And having the bus is going to be pretty great, too. A 10-hour trip to Longview, Texas, in a van will make you appreciate things like that.”

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