PARK CITY, Kan. – For the first time in school history, the Butler women are Region VI basketball champions. The Grizzlies claimed their first postseason title by holding off No. 2-ranked Seward County 62-54 on Wednesday at Hartman Arena.
Sophomore guard Kyla Callins, who was named tournament MVP, led the Grizzlies (28-4) with 18 points and 14 rebounds for her second double-double of the tourney.
The win puts Butler in the NJCAA Division I National Tournament for just the second time in school history. Butler's only previous appearance came as an at-large berth in 2014. The Grizzlies won two games at nationals that year and finished in the top eight in the country.
The national tournament will be played March 18-23 in Lubbock, Texas. Seeding and opponents will be announced by the NJCAA on Monday, March 11.
Butler punched its ticket by defeating two top-10 teams in three days. After beating No. 8 Hutchinson 61-60 in a thriller on Monday, Butler controlled the beginning and the end of Wednesday's game against the nation's second-ranked team.
"There's no better way to win in for the first time (in school history) in going through (Hutch and Seward)," Butler head coach Mike Helmer said. "We really didn't care who we played, though, because we were locked in and ready to go to get it done."
"I'm just so proud of these kids," Helmer said. "We just stuck together and did the things we had to do. When we fight and play like we have in the last couple days, I think we're as good as anybody in the country."
Butler scored the first seven points of the game against Seward with a three-pointer from Kyla Callins and two buckets down low from Criste'On Waters. Seward would get a bucket, but the Grizzlies scored 10 straight for a 17-2 lead after a Jelesa Gross layup with 2:14 left in the first quarter.
Butler would lead 20-6 at the end of the first quarter, but the Grizzlies went ice cold offensively in the second quarter. Seward took advantage by scoring the first eight points of the quarter.
Kyla Callins would get a bucket to put Butler up 22-14 with 7:47 left in the first half, but Seward kept coming. When Silvia Veloso scored with 3:39 left in the half, Seward had cut Butler's lead to 24-20.
Butler would not score again in the half, getting just four points in the second quarter. But the Grizzlies only allowed Seward one point over the final 3:39 of the half, and still led 24-21 at halftime.
Seward continued to surge in the second half and used a 10-0 run in the third quarter to go from five down to five ahead at 32-27 with 6:16 left in the quarter. The Saints would lead by as many as six at the 5:44 mark of the third quarter before Butler came back. Awreona Ransom made two free throws to put Butler back up 40-39 with 1:18 left in the quarter.
Tied at 40-all entering the fourth quarter, Seward hit a 3-pointer early to go ahead 43-40. When Jalise Smallwood swished a 3-pointer with 7:29 to play, Butler had a lead it would not relinquish again at 47-45.
Seward would get within a point three different times, the latest at 55-54 with 1:41 to go after the Grizzlies turned the ball over when Seward started a full-court press.
Butler answered with a layup on a sweet pass in the paint from Waters to Callins with 52 seconds to go for a 57-54 lead. Seward missed a layup with 37 seconds remaining, then was forced to foul. Butler would make 5-of-6 from the line in the closing moments to secure the win.
In addition to Callins' double-double, Jalise Smallwood just missed a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds. Criste'On Waters had nine points and eight rebounds. Both Waters and sophomore guard Taylor Birch were named to the All-Region VI Tournament team.
Butler outmuscled Seward on the boards for a 51-30 rebound advantage - including 18 offensive rebounds. The domination on the offensive glass led to 17 second-chance points for the Grizzlies.
Seward (30-3) had three players finish in double digits, with Lexi Hernandez leading the Saints with 19 points behind 5-of-9 3-point shooting. Karolina Szydlowska added 14 points, while Carla Covane had a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
NOTES: The 28th win of the season marks the third-most wins in a season in Butler's history. The Grizzlies went 34-3 during the 2013-14 season and went 30-4 in the 1992-93 season... Butler won its second straight game over Seward County for the first time since the 1991-92 season. The Grizzlies have handed two of Seward's three losses on the season...Under Helmer, Butler improved to 15-10 in Region VI playoff games... Butler improved to 2-4 overall against Seward County in the Region VI playoffs. The Grizzlies' other win over the Saints came on March 9, 1996 in a 70-67 quarterfinal win at Wichita State... In the final three Region VI tourney games, Callins averaged 18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.3 assists per game.