ST. GEORGE, Utah – The Butler softball team is hauling home a trophy for a third consecutive season after finishing third in the 2018 NJCAA Division I National Tournament.
The Grizzlies were just one strike away from playing for a third-straight national championship, but Chipola (Fla.) hit a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning to extend the game, then hit another solo shot in the bottom of the eighth to beat Butler 5-4 in Saturday's consolation final at Canyons Softball Complex.
Butler finishes its season at 53-6, marking the third straight season the Grizzlies both played on the final day of the season and finished with 53 or more wins in a season. In the three-year span, Butler is 164-11 (53-4, 2016; 58-1, 2017).
The third-place finish also marks the fourth time in the past six seasons that Butler has finished in the top four nationally, as Butler finished fourth in 2013 before winning back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017.
Butler came into action on Saturday hoping to play in the title game for a third straight year and nearly made that happen despite falling behind twice early.
As the visiting team on the scoreboard, Butler went scoreless in the top of the first. In the bottom of the inning, Chipola's Candela Figueroa hit a leadoff home run against starter Maddie Siemer. It was the second straight game in the national tournament in which Butler had given up a leadoff home run.
Butler would answer back in the top of the second inning as Abi Cole would get hit by a pitch. She moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Reagan Wilson and then scored when Payton Reynolds reached on a throwing error by the Chipola shortstop.
Chipola regained the lead in the bottom of the second when Siemer allowed a runner to second. The runner went to third and later scored on two wild pitches to make it a 2-1 game.
Butler had a chance to extend the lead in the top of the fourth inning, getting runners at second and third with one out. The Grizzlies attempted to get a run home with a squeeze bunt, but Reagan Wilson was called out at the plate.
Chipola would get a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game at 3-3.
Butler would score its final run of the season in the top of the fifth. Brianna Robinson drew a walk and Nykiah Hines would pinch run for her. Abi Cole lifted a double to the gap in right-center to drive in Hines from first. Butler led 4-3.
Siemer, who had allowed just one run over the previous four innings, went out to finish the game in the seventh. She got two quick outs and jumped ahead to an 0-2 count to the batter Jordene Gaten, who would drop the next pitch over the left field fence to tie the game.
Butler got one batter on in the top of the eighth, but could not score. Chipola's Melany Sheldon led off the eighth and hit a home run to center to end the game and send the Indians to the national championship game.
Celina Sullivan was named the Most Outstanding Pitcher at the tournament, as she went 2-1 with a 1.56 earned-run average over 18 innings and four apperances. She allowed seven runs - four of them earned - on 12 hits, nine walks and struck out 22 batters. Reagan Wilson and Brianna Robinson was also named to the All-Tournament team. In five tourney games, Wilson hit .357 (5-of-14) with two home runs and eight RBI, while Robinson hit .467 (7-of-15) with four runs scored and three RBI.
NOTES: Celina Sullivan finishes her Butler career as the top Grizzly pitcher in career earned-run average (0.995). She also finished fourth all-time in career strikeouts (302), seventh in career wins (30) and second in career saves (2). In Butler single-season records, Sullivan finished this season third in both strikeouts (223) and ERA (1.01)... Maddie Siemer ranks 10th all-time in career wins (25) and strikeouts (179). In single-season marks, Siemer ranks 10th in wins (22) and ninth in strikeouts (141)... Alexis Reed finishes fourth all-time at Butler in career home runs (29) and sixth in career RBI (116). In single-season records, Reed is sixth in home runs (20) and eighth in RBI (69)... Brianna Robinson had one of the top freshman seasons all-time at Butler, setting freshman season-bests in home runs (24) and runs batted in (85). Robinson finished third among the Grizzly single-season leaderboard in both categories and finished fifth in single-season batting average (.483)... Kenzie Young finished first in career triples (13) and runs scored (158), along with finishing in the top 10 in numerous offensive categories - batting average (.468, third), runs batted in (131, fourth), home runs (22, 10th) and stolen bases (63, fifth). Young's .488 batting average this season is the fourth-best single-season mark at Butler. She also finished third among single-season leaders in triples (7) and seventh in both runs (68) and stolen bases (37).