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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Butler magic strikes once more and makes its first NCAA Tournament appearance



                   Photo Credit: John Dedman/Butler Athletics


On an overcast Saturday afternoon more reminiscent of a football game on a Sunday, the Butler Bulldogs (28-22) produced their second multi-run comeback in as many days with a 10-8 win over the St. John's Red Storm (29-20) in eight innings to win the school's first BIG EAST Tournament title and trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history. 

The Red Storm happened to be on the wrong end of a Bulldogs win, but did not go down without a fight.

Butler starting pitcher Kristin Gutierrez could have easily phoned things in after re-appearing and allowing St. John's Brittany Garcia (RBI single) and Krystal Puga (fielder's choice) to score in the bottom of the seventh inning, but received a de facto mulligan in extra innings.

Brandyce Sallee's two-run double with one out in the top of the eighth inning provided redemption for Gutierrez (11-12), who pitched three innings total and picked up the win despite giving up six earned runs and seven walks.

With the mentality of treating things like another game on the schedule as opposed to the pressure of the championship game on the shoulders, Gutierrez (11-12) retired the side with two runners left on base to earn the win, which signified the lack of quit from the Bulldogs even as the No. 4 seed.

Mikeila Boroff relieved Gutierrez in the bottom of the second when things looked frail and provided stability with five innings in relief and allowed two runs.


                Video Credit: John Dedman/Butler Athletics

"Me and [Mikeila] have been joking because last game against DePaul, we evenly split the game in terms of innings, so it is honestly a team effort," Gutierrez said. "To know that she will come in and save me and I can come and return the favor is how we win games."

Butler coach Scott Hall could not come up with his own words in victory, but emphasized the players all the way.

"I don't have words to be honest with you," Hall said in an even-keeled manner. 

"It was so exciting to watch those kids celebrate and I decided to sit back and let them do their thing because they are the ones that put all of the work in, we just make suggestions. These kids go out, fight, scratch and battle and they don't quit on each other."

Down 6-0, Butler scored eight unanswered runs, which spanned the fifth and sixth innings, capped off by the tournament's Most Outstanding Player Sarah Dixon's 2-run home run in the top of the sixth.

"I've been telling Sarah all season that she has as much juice as anyone on the team," Hall said. "When she barrels up the ball, she can put some charge into it."

While the comebacks have provided for great theater in the last two days, Hall points back to the long days the Bulldogs put in the off-season to lead to the pay-off in May.

"These guys get up at 6 a.m. and lift weights, so they were not going to come out in the biggest game of the year and give up," Hall said. 

"If you want to give up, then you don't get up early and lift weights in September. I never doubted for a minute that we were going to quit. It was a matter of us putting together some hits and St. John's is a really good team and give them a lot of credit for what they did out there today as well."

Hard work and determination can pay off no matter how bleak things are and the Butler Bulldogs serve as one of many blueprints for others to follow down the line.


Looking Ahead:

Butler's group selection will be revealed on the NCAA Softball Tournament Selection Show tomorrow night at 9 p.m. CT on ESPNU.

Depending on how things shake out in the remaining conference tournaments, Butler could be placed in the Ann Arbor group.


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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.


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