Madison Perrigan has blossomed into the top hitter in the American Athletic Conference, but you won’t hear her first or last name at any Wichita State softball games or practices.
In her junior season, the WSU catcher leads the conference in doubles (14), home runs (9), total bases (92), RBIs (39) and walks (39). Perrigan also sports the best slugging percentage (.667) and on-base percentage (.480) of any AAC starter.
But when she’s up at the plate, her coaches and teammates won’t yell either her first or last name. It’s always her nickname: “Butters.”
And no, the origin of the nickname doesn’t involve her having butterfingers. Rather, it dates back to when Perrigan was a girl making her kid-pitch debut.
“I was really young and I had skipped machine pitch and went straight from tee-ball to kid-pitch, so I wasn’t sure I could hang,” Perrigan said. “I would shake every time I was in the batter’s box and my coach would always tell me to quit shaking.
“And one time she was just like, ‘Quit shaking like Butters,’ referring to Butters, the character off of South Park, because he shakes all the time.
“I thought it was going to be a one-time thing, but ever since then it hasn’t left me.”
The nickname wasn’t just for softball. Perrigan has been known as Butters to pretty much everyone in her life: from her friends to her teachers in school to her family.
“I guess I never really thought about it because everyone always called her Butters,” WSU coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “You talk to her coaches, it was never Madison. It was always Butters. Her whole family calls her Butters. It just fits her personality, so I don’t think twice about it.
“The only time I’ll call her Madison is like when your mom is mad at you and she calls you by your full name. I’ll call her Madison in those situations, but most of the time it’s going to be Butters out of my mouth.”
Perrigan certainly hasn’t given Bredbenner anything to be upset about with her junior campaign.
She has been a three-year starter at catcher for WSU. Perrigan had a strong freshman season, hitting .304 with nine home runs, but then became obsessed with trying to build on those power numbers. Last season, she hit one more home run, but saw her batting average dip to .278 and her strikeouts rise.
This season Perrigan has stopped worrying about the numbers and trying to smash every ball over the fence. The difference in approach has been telling.
“She’s finally understood the art of not trying to do too much up at the plate,” Bredbenner said. “When you try not to do too much, you end up doing a lot of damage. Most kids come in here thinking they need to swing harder to hit the ball harder. (Perrigan) has learned how to make adjustments and that hard work and maturity is paying off.”
Perrigan also credits her breakout season to a change in batting stance after watching film and talking with assistant coach Elizabeth Economon.
“Last year I was taking a such a huge step that I was almost out of the batter’s box and it was changing the level of my eyes going up and down,” Perrigan said. “So this year I’m in a closed stance and that has helped seeing the ball better, making it look bigger, tracking it in all the way and actually noticing strikes from balls.”
The numbers show the improvement.
Before this season, Perrigan had drawn 32 walks and struck out 48 times in 355 career plate appearances. That’s one walk every 11 at-bats. This season, Perrigan has drawn 39 walks and struck out just 13 times in 180 plate appearances. Now she’s drawing a walk in less than every five at-bats.
Perrigan has the ninth-most walks in the country and 16 more than any other player in the AAC. That type of discipline is rare for a player hitting .341 with the power numbers of Perrigan.
“She’s got more discipline than sometimes I want her to have, to be honest with you,” Bredbenner said. “She’s got a great eye and sometimes she’ll watch pitches I think she can hit. She loves to hit in a 2-strike count, which drives me crazy as a coach but she can get away with it because she has such a great eye and every at-bat means something to hear.”
Perrigan will lead the Shockers (28-20) into their final non-conference game of the season 6 p.m. Wednesday at Wilkins Stadium against a No. 1-ranked Oklahoma (41-2) team riding a 31-game winning streak. WSU also has a crucial conference series coming up starting Friday at Tulsa.
Bredbenner said the team just needs Perrigan “to keep being Butters” and supplying the same power and timely hitting she has all season.
“I used to always be in my head and always second-guess myself,” Perrigan said. “This year I’ve been more sure of myself. I’m trusting my gut and trusting my instincts and that’s my main thing. I just keep telling myself, ‘Butters, you can do this.’”
No. 1 Oklahoma at WSU softball
Records: OU 41-2, WSU 28-20
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Wilkins Stadium
TV: Cox HD 2022 (Streaming on YurView.com)