The Butler men’s tennis team rounded out regular season conference play this weekend at home against Valparaiso and UIC.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs (6-15, 3-4 HL) swept the Crusaders (9-13, 0-7 HL) in doubles play en route to a 4-3 victory.
Seniors Brandon Bayliss and Lenz Theodor highlighted the Bulldogs’ dominance at doubles with an 8-0 win over their opponents.
This momentum carried over to singles play, as Butler would go on to grab straight-set victories in its first three matches.
At No. 1 singles, Bayliss defeated senior Jose Gaspar, 6-3, 6-3.
Senior Chris Herron and junior Zach Ervin both won their matches as well, winning by scores of 6-1, 6-4 and 6-1, 6-2, respectively. From then on Butler struggled, losing in its final three matches.
Sunday’s match versus UIC was another chapter in Butler’s season of inconsistency.
The Flames (7-12, 4-3 HL) got off to a quick start, winning two of three doubles matches, and kept on rolling to win 6-1.
Bayliss got the lone victory in singles play for the Bulldogs, finishing the regular season with a perfect 7-0 against conference opponents.
“I commit to my game plan on a daily basis in practice,” Bayliss said. “I figure out what I need to do and then I do my best to execute.”
Butler did not close out the regular season at full strength. Bayliss and Theodor sat out against IUPUI due to the regular season maximum match limit, leading to a 6-1 loss to the Jaguars (7-15) yesterday.
The Bulldogs were able to take one point in singles play thanks to Herron, who won at No. 1 singles, 6-1, 7-6.
Butler’s only other victory was at No. 2 doubles, but the Bulldogs were forced to forfeit the No. 3 doubles match.
With their split performance this weekend, the Bulldogs clinched the No. 5 seed in the Horizon League Championship tournament.
They will face off against UIC in the first round Thursday at North Central High School in Indianapolis.
“Everyone just needs to play with more confidence so we can start closing matches out,” Bayliss said. “It’ll be tough, but we can definitely do it.”
A bruised and battered Butler men’s tennis team fell to the Green Bay Phoenix Saturday, 6-1.
Senior Bryce Warren, in action for the first time since March 6, teamed with senior Chris Herron to pick up a win at No. 1 doubles, 8-7. Senior Brandon Bayliss also won for the Bulldogs (4-11, 1-1 HL), taking the No. 1 singles point, 7-5, 6-4.
“When healthy, we have the best doubles team in the conference,” head coach Jason Suscha said. “We can compete against any team in the league.”
Staying healthy has been a problem for the Bulldogs this season.
Warren, who has been battling a back injury for the past month, was unable to play singles on Saturday, even after winning at doubles. He expects to be completely healthy by the Horizon League Championship Tournament, which begins April 22.
Junior Stephen McLoughlin has been out of action with an elbow injury since Jan. 22.
“He hasn’t been cleared to serve,” Suscha said. “It’s tough because we are watching him cream shots from the baseline, but he just can’t play.”
Suscha hopes McLoughlin can return by the April 16 match against Valparaiso so he can get a full week of playing time in before the conference tournament gets underway.
The Bulldogs won’t get much time to rest and recuperate.
Beginning Saturday against Youngstown State, Butler will play six matches in an eight-day span.
Junior Zach Ervin, who lost at No. 3 singles to Green Bay, 7-6, 6-3, is confident that the squad can overcome the tough stretch.
“We won’t mind all the matches in the short amount of time,” Ervin said. “Playing matches is way more fun than practicing.”
In the meantime, a few unfamiliar faces are getting significant playing time.
Since McLoughlin’s injury, walk-on senior David Dolins has been filling in at the No. 6 singles spot.
Freshman Brad DiCarlo has also seen more court time, including the March 19 contest versus Detroit in which he recorded the match-clinching win.
“We have a lot of confidence in the guys filling in,” Ervin said.
Dolins teamed with Ervin at No. 3 doubles against Green Bay, losing 8-4. Dolins also lost at No. 5 singles, 6-2, 6-1. DiCarlo fell at No. 6 singles, 6-0, 6-4.
The Bulldogs need to finish sixth or better in the Horizon League in order to qualify for the Horizon League tournament.
Butler currently sits at fifth place in the conference, ahead of Detroit, Youngstown State and Valparaiso. The Bulldogs defeated Detroit March 19 and will play the latter two teams within the next week.
“Against Green Bay, we made some mental errors that made the match tougher for us,” Suscha said. “We just need to work on getting healthy and limiting mental mistakes.”
Butler will begin a seven-match homestand on Saturday against Youngstown State.
The Bulldogs will then play conference leader Cleveland State Sunday, followed by matches Tuesday and Wednesday against Horizon League opponents Wright State and Ball State, respectively.
“We are as good as any team in the conference when healthy,” Ervin said. “Even if we aren’t healthy, we are going to go out there and battle.
The Butler men’s basketball team is headed back to the Final Four despite a January and February full of experts spouting opinions to the contrary.
The doubters had their reasons.
First, Gordon Hayward left. Then, senior Willie Veasley couldn’t be replaced. And surely losses at Louisville, Xavier and a three-game losing streak that culminated at Youngstown State had proven the Bulldogs (27-9) were no longer among the nation’s elite.
But Butler has again done what they seem to do so well—prove others wrong.
Four NCAA tournament wins and millions of busted brackets later, the No. 8 seed Butler has punched a ticket to Houston, where they will play the No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth Rams.
“It’s a tribute to the Butler system,” sophomore center Andrew Smith said. “When you lose a great player like Gordon Hayward, people are going to underestimate you, but we’ve been able to turn it around.”
It took a full team effort to get Butler back to the Final Four. Roles had to be realigned and new obstacles had to be overcome.
Senior forward Matt Howard and junior guard Shelvin Mack have been at the front of the pack.
While many nationwide have continued to focus on Howard as a ‘turtleneck sock-wearing,’ nerdy Ichabod Crane,” he has continued doing what he loves to do most—win basketball games with his “brothers.”
Howard is averaging 16.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game during the 2011 NCAA tournament. He also had game-winning shots in the Bulldogs’ second- and third-round wins.
Mack has been right with Howard in the upper eschelons of tournament statistics. His 21.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game during the March tournament run earned him the Southeast Region MVP.
This season, Smith has given some room for Mack and now Howard to work on the perimeter.
A 6-foot-11-inch graduate of local Covenant Christian High School, Smith has successfully played the post position in February and March. He doesn’t always blow up the stat sheet, but he does provide size against large opponents and allows teammates to play to their strengths.
Defense has been a huge part of the Bulldogs’ return to the Final Four with senior guard Shawn Vanzant and junior guard Ronald Nored being the keys to that effort.
Their ability to guard the perimeter and corral quick point guards, like Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor and Florida’s Erving Walker, have forced deep, difficult shots from opponents and allowed other parts of the scouting report to be executed.
Bench play has also been key in this year’s deep tournament run. When Smith got into foul trouble, Mack rolled an ankle or a spark was needed, the bench was there.
Junior forward Garrett Butcher, senior guard Zach Hahn, freshman guard Chrishawn Hopkins and freshman forward Khyle Marshall have been the support system in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans.
Each had a performance that got the Bulldogs through tough times.
Butcher defended the middle against Old Dominion. Hahn kept things close against Florida in the first half.
Hopkins dished out a no-look assist and then made a 3-pointer in the second half against Florida. Marshall grabbed seven offensive rebounds against the Gators.
The bulk of the work has been done by Howard, Mack, Smith and Vanzant, but a handful of other Bulldogs have each had their part in overcoming a wave in the NCAA tournament’s open sea.
And of course, Butler head coach Brad Stevens has been the glue to bring the pieces together.
“I think he’s one of the best in-game coaches in country,” Nored said. “He does a good job of analyzing teams by numbers first and then getting a feel for how they play.
“He shows us that the little details add up to the big picture.”
Rams: The New “Giant Killers”
Somehow, Stevens, 34, won’t be the youngest head coach in the game.
Shaka Smart, 33, leads the Rams—the “hottest” team in the country and yet still a team that barely made it into the field of 68.
They share more than youth, though. Both have a strong passion for the game, according to Hahn.
The Rams (28-11) have a five-game winning streak, but all of those wins are in the NCAA tournament and against “bigger,” or more major, conferences.
Consider the prestige of the Rams’ victims during this year’s tournament: No. 11 seed Southern California (Pacific-10), No. 6 seed Georgetown (Big East), No. 3 seed Purdue (Big Ten), No. 10 seed Florida State (ACC) and No. 1 seed Kansas (Big 12).
Butler is not from a major conference, but that shouldn’t temper VCU’s ability to play as the underdog. No experts expected the Rams to be where they are now, much like none of them picked Butler to be winner of the Southeast Region.
Stevens called humility a core principle of the Butler program, and that should keep the Bulldogs from overlooking a team that others have in March.
The five days prior to the national semifinal may be what Stevens and the Bulldogs need to prepare for the otherwise surprising Rams.
The matchup epitomizes March Madness and the seemingly changing landscape of college men’s basketball, one in which conference affiliation, media exposure and training facilities aren’t determining factors of how deep a team can go in the tournament.
One of these two unlikely foes—Butler or VCU—will be playing in the national championship game Monday night in Houston against a team from a major conference (Kentucky or Connecticut).
The Butler-VCU national semifinal game tips Saturday at 6:09 p.m.
The Butler baseball team got its conference season started on the right foot by taking two of three games against Valparaiso last Friday and Saturday. The Bulldogs (9-10, 2-1 HL) will look to continue their winning ways against Wabash today and Milwaukee over the weekend.
Butler closed out the three-game series against Valparaiso by posting a double digit run total for the first time since March 13 and beating the Crusaders (3-19, 1-2 HL) in the second game of a doubleheader, 14-7.
“It’s always nice to win a series,” head coach Steve Farley said. “It’s a good compliment for our team when we can bounce back after a tough loss.”
Butler used a big fourth inning to blow the game open. With two outs in the frame, the Bulldogs strung together five consecutive hits to bring home five of the nine runs they tallied in the inning.
With a run already in and two more runners on base, senior right fielder Corey Moylan singled to drive in junior shortstop Griffin Richeson. Senior third baseman Grant Fillipitch followed Moylan’s single with an RBI double which tied the game at 4.
The big blow came from the next batter, senior catcher Michael Letzter, who smacked a three-run home run over the left field fence to put Butler up 7-4.
An RBI double from junior first baseman Mike Hoscheit and a two-run double from pinch hitting sophomore Pat Gelwicks capped the inning for the Bulldogs, who sent 13 hitters to the plate in the frame and turned a 4-1 deficit into a 10-4 lead.
“I went up looking for a good fastball to hit,” Hoscheit said. “Everyone hit well and it was a good performance by the team.”
Butler tacked on three more runs in the fifth inning and a single tally in the 9th while holding the Crusaders to just three runs over the game’s final five innings.
The Bulldogs’ offense was led by Hoscheit, who went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI’s and runs, and Moylan, who also had three hits in five plate appearances, driving home one run and scoring twice. Richeson had a solid day at the plate for Butler as well, going 2-for-4 with three runs, making up for his three errors in the field.
Junior Mike Hernandez picked up his second victory of the season for the Bulldogs. Hernandez pitched seven innings, giving up six runs (five earned) on six hits with five strikeouts over 111 pitches.
“I felt really good,” Hernandez said. “All three starting pitchers [in the series] did well, the defense supported us, we got big hits and the bullpen shut it down in the second game.”
In game one of the doubleheader, Butler squandered an opportunity to tie the score in the eighth inning. It cost the Bulldogs, as Valparaiso posted six runs in the ninth inning to capture a 12-5 win.
Both squads were held hitless until the fourth inning, when the Bulldogs and the Crusaders both scored twice. Valparaiso then scored two more runs in both the fifth and seventh innings while Butler tallied three runs in the sixth inning.
Down 6-5 entering the bottom of the eighth inning, the Bulldogs’ offense quickly got in business when sophomore center-fielder Andrew Eckhardt tripled to open the frame.
Eckhardt was left stranded on third base, however, and the Crusaders would go on to score six times in the ninth inning.
Senior catcher Corey Thibault had an impressive day at the dish for Valparaiso, going 2-for-4 with two home runs and three RBI’s. Junior left fielder Steven Scoby had three hits and three RBI’s for the Crusaders in the win.
Senior Damon McCormick pitched six innings to pick up the victory for Valparaiso. Senior Justin Frane was strong out of the bullpen for the Crusaders, pitching three scoreless innings and allowing a single hit.
Butler used five runs over the sixth and seventh innings as well as a seven-inning, two-run pitching performance from senior Dom Silvestri to win the first game of the 3-game series by a score of 6-2.
The series win put the Bulldogs into a tie for second place with Wright State in the Horizon League and a game behind UIC for the conference lead.
“UIC and Wright State stand out, and Milwaukee is always tough,” Farley said. “All three of them are always at the top.”
Butler’s first contest off a 3-4 trip in Florida was a 15-3 loss at Indiana St. on March 23.
The Bulldogs will welcome Wabash to Bulldog Park today before continuing the conference season with three games in Milwaukee on Friday and Saturday.
A 74-71 overtime victory against the No. 2 seed Florida Gators makes the Bulldogs champions of the NCAA tournament’s Southeast Region.
After the game, junior guard Ronald Nored even shouted those same famous words, which preceded senior guard Zach Hahn shouting, “Your dogs are back, woof woof!”
Butler advanced to its second consecutive Final Four, just one year after losing the national championship game by two points.
“I’m incredibly proud of these guys,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said. “They carried their coach today in a big way. I got out-coached today big time, but our assistants did a great job and our players did a great job.
“We’re really lucky that they’re Butler Bulldogs.”
Florida and Butler were both previously undefeated in NCAA Regional Finals—Butler 1-0 (2010) and Florida 4-0 (1994, 2000, 2006, 2007)—so something had to give.
The Gators caved and the Bulldogs advanced to Houston where they will face the winner of the VCU-Kansas game tomorrow night.
Defeating a tested Florida men’s basketball program wasn’t the only history Butler made.
Butler won its first overtime game of the season, having lost the first three.
Butler is also the first non-Bowl Championship Series school to make consecutive Final Fours since UNLV in 1990 and 1991.
To make such history, Butler had to overcome a lot to punch a ticket to Houston.
Florida senior center Vernon Macklin had 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting in the game, and senior forward Alex Tyus had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton was hard to stop in the second half and scored 17 points on the Bulldogs.
“I was asked earlier do you talk about going to the Final Four, or trying to win a national championship game, and the answer is no,” Stevens said. “We talk about how to guard a cross screen, which we didn’t do very well, and how to guard on-ball screens, which we didn’t do very well at the start.
“But we stayed together, stayed the course, figured it out, and just played resiliently.”
Senior forward Matt Howard and junior guard Shelvin Mack echoed Stevens’ thought, both saying that the win was a team effort.
“We talked about not having any regrets,” Howard said. “If we’re talking about offensive rebounding, don’t have any regrets not going [for the ball].”
Butler countered with positives of their own, Mack’s shooting, team defense and the bench being the most pivotal of them all.
Mack led all scorers with 27 points, which he accumulated on 8-of-20 shooting with four 3-pointers. His 1,490 career points surpassed Jon Neuhouser’s and are now 11th on Butler’s all-time scoring list.
The Bulldogs also held Florida to 25-of-57 (43.9 percent) shooting making this the Gators’ first 2011 NCAA tournament game in which they did not shoot at least 45 percent.
Gators’ All-American senior forward Chandler Parsons was held to five points, and junior guard Erving Walker shot 1-of-10 from the field, making only one of his seven 3-pointers attempted.
That lone made shot gave the Gators a one-point lead with 141 remaining in regulation but was answered 20 seconds later by a Mack long-distance shot
Butler also received strong play from its bench.
Freshman guard Chrishawn Hopkins epitomized Butler’s great bench play.
During a timeout with 7:37 left in regulation, Brad Stevens told his team, “Score, get a stop, then score.” Hopkins listened and facilitated.
After sophomore center Andrew Smith passed an offensive rebound to Hopkins, the freshman made a no-look pass to Howard for a layup.
Then following a missed Boynton jumper, Hopkins received a pass from a driving Mack and sank a 3-pointer to put the Bulldogs within four points.
From then on, momentum belonged to Butler, who was then in process of overcoming an 11-point deficit.
Freshman forward Khyle Marshall also had an impact off the bench and was especially necessary as Smith got into foul trouble and eventually fouled out. Marshall scored 10 points and grabbed seven offensive rebounds against the longer and older Gators.
Butler out-rebounded Florida 41-34, and Marshall’s seven offensive rebounds were nearly half of the team’s 16.
“I thought we had some great effort plays from our freshmen,” Howard said. “Our bench was good for us today.”
Marshall even created a key three-point play late in the second half after one of his offensive grabs.
“It was remarkable—a high, high basketball play,” Stevens said. “Very few guys can do it. He was so quick off the floor and so high.”
The play was indicative of the Elite 8 game’s physical nature.
“I think it was two teams really playing hard and playing aggressive,” Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. “Really, I think they won the battle when the ball was up in the air, and I think that was the difference in the game.”
“[Butler] had great, great heart tonight.”
One such hustle play game when Butler led 72-71 with 19 seconds remaining. Boynton missed a 3-pointer and players from both teams came down with a rebound, resulting in a jump ball which favored the Bulldogs.
From then, Butler had a tactical advantage in the game. Two Mack free throws created the eventual final score and the final seconds melted away after Nored got a defensive rebound and threw the ball toward the court’s opposite end.
Butler will know its next opponent once the Rams and Jayhawks face off. That semifinal game will be played Saturday at a time yet to be determined.
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