The Butler softball team has punched its ticket to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament for the third straight season – and the ninth time in program history – after sweeping Trinidad State (Colo.) in the District E championship series on Wednesday night at East Park.
Butler won both games in run-rule fashion, needing just five innings in each contest. Butler won the first game 8-0 and the second game 11-2.
Butler (50-4 overall) reached the 50-win mark for the third straight year and fourth time in program history. The Grizzlies, who are the defending back-to-back national champions, are now 161-9 since the start of the 2016 season.
The Grizzlies will now turn their attention to nationals, which get underway from St. George, Utah with Wednesday's opening round. Seeding for the 16-team, double-elimination national tournament is expected to be released on Saturday evening.
Game 1 – Butler 8, Trinidad State 0 (5 innings)
Butler's Celina Sullivan pitched all five innings in a two-hit shutout while improving her record to 21-1 on the season. Sullivan, who became the third Butler pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts in a season, had five punchouts and did not walk a batter.
After giving up leadoff singles in the first and second, Sullivan retired the final 12 batters she faced for her fourth complete-game shutout on the year.
Offensively, Butler got going quickly as Paige Pacher led off with a single and scored on a two-run homer to right by Brianna Robinson. Alexis Reed followed with a double, advanced to third on an Abi Cole single and scored on a Sullivan sacrifice fly to give the Grizzlies a 3-0 lead after the first inning.
Butler added two more runs in the fourth, as Shalee Brantley doubled to center to drive in Paige Pacher, her third run of the game. Brantley then scored on a throwing error by Trinidad shortstop Katie Glaze.
The Grizzlies added a final run in the fourth as pinch runner Nykiah Hines raced home from first on a single to right-center by Reed.
Robinson led the Grizzlies' offense by going 2-for-3 with four RBI, while Pacher also went 2-for-3 with three runs scored and a stolen base. Reed was 2-for-2 with a double and RBI, giving Butler three hitters with multiple hits in the opening game.
Game 2 – Butler 11, Trinidad State 2 (5 innings)
Butler would bat first in the game, due to district playoff rules that mandate the home team act as the visiting team on the scoreboard in the second game. The rule only served to put Butler in the lead sooner, as the Grizzlies scored six runs in the opening frame.
Robinson opened the scoring with her 24th home run of the season - hitting a two-run shot to left field. Following the homer, Butler loaded the bases and Reynolds drew a walk to force in a run.
Makensey Pankers hit a double off the top of the fence in left-center to score Abi Cole and Reagan Wilson to put Butler up 5-0, then Reynolds came home on a wild pitch for the final run of the inning.
Butler was scoreless in the second inning before getting two runs in the third as Pacher singled to drive in Pankers and Brantley doubled to right to score Pacher.
Butler added three more runs in the fifth, beginning with a Celina Sullivan two-run single up the middle to drive in Caylie Kifer and Pankers. Butler's final run came as Robinson flied out in foul territory down the right field line, allowing Cole to tag up and score from third.
Grizzly starter Maddie Siemer (21-2) allowed just one earned run on two hits over four innings. The sophomore righthander struck out four batters and walked four. Megan Johnson came on in relief in the fifth to close the game, giving up one unearned run on one hit.
Brantley and Pankers each went 3-for-3, while Pacher and Cole had two hits. Robinson led the Grizzlies with three RBI, while Sullivan and Pankers drove in two runs each.
NOTES: Robinson extended her hitting streak to 17 games, as she is hitting .620 (31-of-50) with 14 home runs, 42 RBI and 20 runs scored... Robinson's homer in the second game tied Kate James for third among Butler's single-season home run record. She also moved into fourth place in single-season RBI with 82... Sullivan now has 201 strikeouts on the season, moving into third place on the Butler single-season leaderboard. She currently ranks sixth in career strikeouts (280), just eight from tying Maggie Ham (2013, 288) for fifth place... Butler improved to 6-0 all-time vs. Trinidad State. The Grizzlies have won all four district meetings with Trinidad by run-rule over the last two years... Butler's previous national tournament appearances came in 2007 and 2008 in Plant City, Fla. Since 2011, the national tournament has been held in St. George, Utah, with Butler qualifying to reach the tourney seven times in the eight-year span.