SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. – Butler softball punched its ticket to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament in St. George, Utah, on Wednesday evening after a District E series sweep over Western Nebraska at Volunteer Field.
The 10th-ranked Grizzlies (42-6 overall) took both games over the host Cougars, winning 5-4 in Game 1 and then earning the national tourney bid while winning their sixth district title with an 8-5 Game 2 victory.
By winning districts, Butler will make its 10th national tournament appearance in program history and eighth in the last nine seasons.
The four-day tournament gets underway on Wednesday, May 22 from the Canyons Softball Complex. Seeding for the 16-team, double-elimination tourney will be announced on Sunday.
Game 1 – Butler 5, Western Nebraska 4
Western Nebraska jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two innings by scoring a run in each of the first two frames.
Mickie Mills led off the Cougars' first by reaching first base on a fielding error, then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Mills scored from second on a Hannah Baesler dropped pop fly by Butler second baseman Asia Henry.
In the second, Sam Davis opened the inning with a single to the right side. Davis then stole second base and scored when Mills hit a two-out single up the middle.
Butler broke through in the third inning with four runs, highlighted by a two-run double by Anna Icenhower. Jordan Carlson walked to begin the inning, then moved to third after consecutive groundouts.
With two outs, Shayna Espy beat out an infield single to score Carlson from third. Brianna Robinson followed with a single up the middle, then Espy scored on a Taliya Talley RBI double, which was nearly caught on a diving attempt by Western Nebraska centerfielder Emma Glawson. Icenhower then drove in both Robinson and Talley with a double down the third-base line.
Western Nebraska would rally to tie the game by scoring a run in both the fifth and sixth innings. The Cougars led off the fifth with three consecutive singles to load the bases. After Grizzly starter Megan Johnson recorded two outs, Emma McMillan walked to score Mills from third.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Glawson singled through the left side, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and then to third on a groundout. With two outs, a wild pitch allowed Glawson to slide home safely and tie the game at 4-4.
Robinson had the eventual game-winning hit with an RBI double in the top of the seventh. With two outs and Shayna Espy at first base, Robinson hit a double to deep left to score Espy for the lead.
Johnson (17-3) then retired the Cougars in order to end the game by getting a strikeout, catching a lineout and fielding a groundout for the final out.
Johnson allowed three earned runs on five hits while striking out five in her fourth complete game of the season.
Icenhower led Butler by going 3-for-3 with two doubles and two RBI, while Espy scored two runs. Robinson was the only other Grizzly with a multi-hit game, as she went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Game 2 – Butler 8, Western Nebraska 5
As the visiting team, Western Nebraska took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Mickie Mills cored from second on a throwing error.
Butler answered with a four-run first inning, as the Grizzlies hit three straight singles to begin the frame. Meghan Gutierrez hit an infield single, Shayna Espy singled through the right side, then Brianna Robinson drove in the first run with a single to center to score Gutierrez.
Taliya Talley then gave Butler a 4-1 lead with her team-high 19th home run of the season – a three-run blast to center field.
Western Nebraska cut Butler's lead in half in the second, as Emma McMillan led off the inning with a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Lindsey Allie's double down the left-field line.
Butler added two more runs in the bottom of the inning on a two-run, two-out double by Robinson. Makensey Pankers led off the inning by reaching first on a fielding error by Cougars shortstop Hannah Baesler, then moved to second on a wild pitch. Gutierrez was issued a one-out walk, then two batters later, Robinson doubled to deep center to score both Pankers and Gutierrez for a 6-2 lead.
The Cougars scored their third run in the third on a McMillan sacrifice fly to plate Michaela Kelly.
After three complete innings, Butler starter Olivia DePew was pulled for reliever Kaylee Burnett, who struggled by issuing three straight walks to open the Cougars' fourth. With the bases loaded, a wild pitch scored Glawson from third base, then Allie scored on a Kelly groundout.
In her first 14 pitches, Burnett (8-1) threw 13 out of the strike zone, but eventually turned the tide and retired the final 12 Western Nebraska hitters to earn her eighth win of the season. Burnett did not allow a hit in her four innings of work.
Robinson, who went 3-for-4 with five RBI, capped Butler's scoring in the bottom of the fourth by launching a two-run home run to left field. The homer was Robinson's 17th of the season and 41st career home run – putting her one behind Grizzly all-time home run leader Becca Schulte.
Espy matched Robinson in hits with a 3-for-4 performance and scored two runs, while Gutierrez and Robinson each scored two runs. Butler scored all eight runs courtesy of Robinson and Talley, who went 2-for-3 with three RBI.
In her three innings, DePew allowed two earned runs on four hits, walked two and struck out one.
NOTES: Butler improved to 8-1 all-time against Western Nebraska under Grizzly head coach Doug Chance. Since 2012, the Grizzlies have won seven straight over the Cougars, with the last four wins coming in district play… For the second time in program history, Butler will make its fourth straight trip to nationals. The Grizzlies achieved the four-peat from 2011-2014, earning their Final Four appearance during the 2013 season. Butler won back-to-back national championships in 2016 and 2017 before placing third last season… Talley is one home run away from becoming the seventh Grizzly to reach 20 home runs in a season. She remains one homer behind Alexis Reed (2018) for sixth place on the Butler single-season leaderboard… With five RBIs in Game 2, Robinson has 73 RBI and tied Becca Schulte for sixth for most runs batted in by a Grizzly during a single season. Robinson's Game 2 homer also tied Robyn Sadowski (2006) for eighth all-time in single-season home runs at Butler.