The Butler Community College softball team headed west last week, first to La Junta, Colo., then on to St. George, Utah.
It’s all part of what the Grizzlies hope turns out to be a history-making quest as they pursue the first NJCAA national title in the program’s history.
And if they do manage to win it all, they’ll do it from the very top of the bracket. Butler (50-2), ranked No. 1 since April 10, was given the top seed in the NJCAA Division I Tournament and faces Pitt Community College (28-13), out of Winterville, N.C., on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the opening round.
It’s the third straight trip to the national tournament for the Grizzlies.
Never miss a local story.
“What we’ve told them all year is don’t worry about anybody else, just worry about we do,” Butler coach Doug Chance said. “They’re not overconfident, they’re relaxed … I think their attitude is that they expect to win and they’re confident. If somebody beats us, they must have been pretty good and we’ll tip our hats to them.”
One thing that Butler’s opponents won’t have an advantage with — unless they get creative — is being able to scout the Grizzlies on film. Chance said he had Butler assistant athletic director Matt Jacobs take down all of the archived, online Butler games from this season in the last week.
“We’ve been watching video of (Pitt) the last two days … with modern technology, you can scout anybody,” Chance said. “So after we qualified for Utah, I had Matt disable all of the video on our website. We’ve got a good idea of how we need to pitch them and the approach we need to take at the plate with their number one pitcher.
“One thing I’ve been telling our team is that, yeah, we belong here, but so do the other 15 teams that got here. You can’t take anybody lightly.”
After sweeping Otero 5-3, 3-0 last Thursday in the Division E best-of-three championship series, the Grizzlies headed right to Utah, where they’ve spent their days practicing, scrimmaging and taking long nature walks, including one into the mountains of Snow Canyon State Park.
“It’s good that we’ve been here, because we’ve been able to get acclimated to the weather and the drier climate … there wasn’t any point in us going back (to El Dorado),” Chance said. “Everybody seems really relaxed, so I don’t know if I need to ramp them up or if they’re right where they need to be mentally.”
Jayhawk West pitcher of the year and Oklahoma signee Maggie Ham will get the start against Pitt, and fellow sophomore and Creighton signee Mac Millspaugh will be ready should Butler advance to Thursday’s quarterfinals at 5 p.m. against the Wallace-Santa Fe State winner.
“I can’t see anyone being able to go as deep as we can with pitching,” Chance said. “We’ve got one kid who we know can get it done, no matter what, then another kid that came in and throw in the upper-mid 60s and then another, Kelsey Berlin, that’s a left-hander that can come in and throw about the same speed.”
Cowley, Highland open up -- The Jayhawk Conference put a pair of teams in the NJCAA Division II Tournament in Clinton, Miss., with both opening play on Wednesday. Jayhawk East champion Cowley (50-6) opens against Cuyahoga (23-12) at 1:30 p.m. and Highland (37-8) plays Sauk Valley (34-13) at 3:30 p.m.