NJCAA softball: Repeat complete as Butler did it again

Butler (KS) vs. Salt Lake Community College, NJCAA National Championships, Softball, St. George, UT, May 20, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Last year, Butler (Kan.) came to the NJCAA Division I softball championships  wide-eyed, but brash and talented, and captured its first national championship.

This year, the Grizzlies looked like experienced veterans who owned the Canyons Complex, charging their way through the bracket without a loss (or even a very close game) and claiming their second straight NJCAA softball title with Saturday’s 11-7 win over Salt Lake Community College.

Butler becomes the first team to repeat as NJCAA Division I champions in 25 seasons, with Central Arizona being the last team with consecutive championships (five straight from 1988-92).

Sophomore Brynn Minor led the offensive charge by matching a season-high with three home runs and driving in seven runs for the Grizzlies, who averaged 10.6 runs during the five tournament games.

Minor’s first homer of the game came in the second inning on a three-run blast to give the Grizzlies a 5-3 lead. In the fifth, Minor added a solo shot to left field, then hit a two-run home run to center to secure the win.

Butler celebrates with the championship trophy, Butler (KS) vs. Salt Lake Community College, NJCAA National Championships, Softball, St. George, UT, May 20, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Butler struck first in the contest with two runs in the top-half of the first inning. Ki’Audra Hayter tripled down the right-field line to lead off the inning, then scored when Kenzie Young hit an infield single. Young came home from third on a sacrifice fly by Minor.

Salt Lake took its only lead of the game after scoring three runs in the bottom of the opening frame, as Madison Sicso hit an RBI single and Laina Suesue drove in two runs with a single to center.

The Grizzlies answered back when Minor hit a three-run home run to left field, coming after Young was hit by a pitch and Becca Schulte singled to center.

Salt Lake cut Butler’s lead to 5-4 in the third inning on a sacrifice fly by Ashlee Snyder, but Minor’s solo homer and Alexis Reed’s two-run blast to left-center in the fifth gave the Grizzlies an 8-4 lead.

Snyder again helped the Bruins cut the deficit to one run with a three-run home run to center field off Butler starter Regan Mergele. The Grizzlies then brought in Minor to pitch, recording a fly out to end the inning.

Butler added three insurance runs in the sixth inning, beginning with a sacrifice fly by Schulte to score Hayter. Minor then hit her 30th home run of the season by hitting the first pitch over the centerfield wall for a two-run shot.

Butler (KS) vs. Salt Lake Community College, NJCAA National Championships, Softball, St. George, UT, May 20, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Minor retired the final seven batters of the game, including recording the final out, setting off a celebration dogpile in the pitching circle.

Butler had five players represented on the NJCAA All-Tournament team – including sophomore shortstop Becca Schulte, who was named the Most Valuable Player and Most Outstanding Offensive Player. Schulte hit .588 (10-for-17) with four home runs, 15 runs batted in and scored seven runs in five games.

Sophomore Regan Mergele was named Most Outstanding Pitcher, while Minor, freshman catcher Allison Jurgensen, and freshman outfielder Paige Pacher received all-tourney honors. Head coach Doug Chance was also named the Coach of the Tournament for the second straight year.

Along with Minor’s 3-for-4 performance with three homers and seven RBI, Hayter had a four-hit game and scored twice. Young and Minor scored three runs each, while Schulte and Pacher each had two hits.

Butler (KS) vs. Salt Lake Community College, NJCAA National Championships, Softball, St. George, UT, May 20, 2017, | Photo by Robert Hoppie, ASPpix.com, St. George News

Mergele finishes the season with a perfect 29-0 record, despite giving up four earned runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings. She struck out three and walked one in her final appearance as a Grizzly. Minor picked up her sixth save on the year, striking out two in 2 1/3 perfect innings.

SLCC got the shot at the Grizzlies by beating Florida SW State 3-1 in an elimination game Saturday morning. Chantelle Ladner pitched the complete-game victory for the Bruins. all three runs for Salt Lake came off home runs by Alex Valencia and Ashlee Snyder. Snyder’s solo shot broke a scoreless tie in the second and Valencia’s two-run dinger came in the fourth.

NOTES: Butler finishes first among all NJCAA D-I teams in batting average (.417), home runs (135), RBIs (613), runs scored (658), runs per game (11.2), on-base percentage (.489), slugging (.762), extra base hits (279), and total bases (1,280). The Grizzly pitching staff finishes second in ERA (1.20) and first in strikeouts per 7 innings (8.08).

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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