Softball finishes strong down South

The Butler softball team felt dirt under their cleats for the first time this season when they participated in Mississippi State’s Bulldog Round-Robin Tournament in Starkville, Miss., during the weekend.

Butler went 1-3 on the road trip, with the win coming in the tournament’s Sunday finale versus Louisiana Tech.

Junior first baseman Erin Falkenberry hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the third inning to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 advantage.

“I think [the home run] helped focus the morale of the team,” Falkenberry said. “It helped pump us up and changed the game a little bit.”

The home run marked her first of the season and the 20th of her Butler career.

Louisiana Tech battled back to tie the game in the fourth inning. However, Butler reclaimed the lead in the top of the fifth when senior center fielder Erin Jackson, who got on base with a double, was driven in to score off a single by junior left fielder Lauren McNulty.

Sophomore Devin Dearing, who spent time as a designated hitter and third baseman, later brought McNulty in on a sacrifice bunt to give the Bulldogs a 4-2 advantage.

Butler would hold that two-run cushion, winning 5-3.

Freshman pitcher Leah Bry picked up the save, giving senior starter Jennifer Chasteen the win.

Bry started the first of two games Saturday, allowing two runs in five innings of work while striking out four.

The first of those two Saturday games was the first time Butler faced Louisiana Tech. After falling behind in the top of the seventh inning, the Bulldogs were unable to answer in the bottom half and lost by a score of 3-2.

Later that day, the Bulldogs faced host Mississippi State.

Both pitchers engaged in a figurative duel, shutting down both offenses for much of the game before Mississippi State scored two runs late, which made the final difference in a 2-0 Butler loss.

Butler sophomore pitcher Jenny Esparza allowed no earned runs in six innings of work, while Mississippi State sophomore Kylie Vry earned a win in a complete game shutout.

Esparza, who won a school-record 18 games last season, had struggled during Butler’s season opener, which was a Friday game against Southern Illinois. In that game, Esparza and crew allowed six earned runs in three-and-a-third innings of work, which led to a 7-0 Butler loss to the Salukis.

“I wasn’t getting many calls and I wasn’t hitting my spots,” Esparza said, “but I think that game got the nerves out. Against Mississippi State, I felt more comfortable and that was the true me.”

Falkenberry said that the Bulldogs faced a slight disadvantage heading into the tournament, with many of the competing teams having already adjusted to playing outdoors.

“The other teams had played five or six games outside already,” Falkenberry said. “We had fewer errors in each [subsequent] game and each time out, we got more hits.

“Our main goal was to improve and we did that.”

Butler heads to Nashville, Tenn., March 4 to compete in the Lady Bison Classic at Lipscomb University.