Whenever Butler Community College’s mind-boggling softball winning streak came to an end, it was bound to sting the Grizzlies a little bit.
So it did when Seward County held off the reigning NJCAA champions 6-5 on Sunday in El Dorado. A run of 88 consecutive victories, the longest-known streak in collegiate softball and a number synonymous with UCLA’s record-setting mark in men’s basketball under coach John Wooden, was halted.
The jolting reality for Butler was that its 2017 season, which was perfect through 50 games, suddenly was on the line. The Grizzlies responded with a 10-0 victory over Seward to win the Region VI tournament for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.
All that stands between No. 1 Butler (51-1) and a return to the NJCAA Division I Tournament is a best-of-three series against Region IX winner Trinidad State (Colo). Trinidad (38-22) will host the District E series beginning Friday afternoon.
“Honestly, the streak was a lot more important outside the team than what it was to the team,” Butler coach Doug Chance said. “After that loss, they all looked at each other and said, ‘We’re one game away from this season being over if we don’t get our stuff together.’ ”
Butler rolled in the second championship game of the double-elimination tournament behind sophomore pitcher Regan Mergele. Mergele, a San Antonio native who has signed with Nebraska, matched a season high with 10 strikeouts in five hitless innings and lowered her nation-leading ERA to 0.57.
Mergele, who improved to 25-0, came through after Chance suspended her for the first game against Seward for a team curfew violation.
“Regan was on a mission,” Chance said. “When I told her you’re not going to play in the first game and if you have to rescue us in Game 2, I jokingly said you better not give up a hit.
“That’s the best she’s thrown in her career at Butler. She showed what she was made of when our backs were against the wall.”
The Grizzlies also played without third baseman Allison Jurgensen, who was injured in an off-field accident and is not expected to play Friday. Butler trailed 5-0 in the fifth before sophomore Brynn Minor belted the first of two home runs, a three-run shot, to start the Grizzlies’ comeback bid.
Minor, an Eisenhower product and Jayhawk Conference player of the year, added a two-run homer with two outs in the seventh to pull Butler within a run. It was Minor’s 25th of the season, moving her past Kate James for Grizzlies’ single-season record.
While it didn’t extend Butler’s winning streak, momentum from the rally carried over to the decisive game. Andover Central product and Oregon signee Becca Schulte ignited a five-run third with a three-run homer. With Mergele and Celina Sullivan combining for a no-hitter, the Grizzlies extended their postseason.
“I think they knew we had it,” Chance said of his team’s mindset after the loss. “The kids knew it was time to go to work and just take care of business.”
Butler’s upcoming series will feature NJCAA Division I’s top two home-run hitting teams. Trinidad State, led by sophomore shortstop Isabella Navarro (.519, 30 home runs, 93 RBIs), has hit 117 in 60 games. Butler has 110.
The Grizzlies’ statistical advantage is on the mound. Butler’s team ERA of 1.16 trails only Chipola (Fla.) College’s 0.94 in the national rankings. Trinidad State, which is 2-6 against Jayhawk Conference teams this season, has a 5.69 ERA.
“I know they can hit,” Chance said. “Their pitching is a little soft. What concerns me is we don’t normally struggle against velocity. If we are going to struggle, it’s going to be against somebody pitching us backward.
“It usually takes us a time or two to get our timing on slower pitchers.”