Making history: Softball victorious in 16-inning rubber match vs. Vikings

The Bulldogs outlasted Cleveland State in 16 innings Sunday to win the longest game in Butler softball history. Click the tabs for coverage.

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Story by Lance Rinker

The Bulldogs outlasted Cleveland State in 16 innings Sunday to win the longest game in Butler softball history.

The win marked Butler’s second over the Vikings (19-14, 4-5 HL) in as many days. Prior to the weekend, Butler had beaten the Vikings only once in 13 tries since 2006.

The Bulldogs (21-15, 7-3 HL) and sophomore pitcher Jenny Esparza carried that momentum into yesterday’s double-header versus Valparaiso.

“Valparaiso has beaten us before, so we have a chip on our shoulder,” Esparza said prior to yesterday’s games.

In the opening game, Esparza pitched a complete game shutout, striking out 12 batters en route to a 2-0 victory.

Esparza has hurled three straight complete games and has not allowed a run in 23 consecutive innings of work.

The contest was a scoreless deadlock until the fifth inning when senior center fielder Erin Jackson singled with two outs.

Jackson went on to steal second before eventually scoring the go-ahead run on a single by junior leftfielder Lauren McNulty.

Butler didn’t have that same success in the second game of the doubleheader.

Junior Breanna Fisher allowed no earned runs in two and two-thirds innings of work.

However, Fisher was credited with the loss after the Crusaders scored three unearned runs in the third inning following a Butler fielding error.

The Bulldogs entered the ninth inning trailing, 3-1, but another fielding error by the Bulldogs set up a big inning for Valparaiso.

A throwing error by sophomore second baseman Meaghan Sullivan resulted in four Crusader runs and sealed the Bulldogs’ demise.

Butler was unable to rally in the bottom of the ninth and lost, 7-1.

Despite the road bump, Esparza still believes the Bulldogs can ride the momentum from winning the Cleveland State series throughout the remainder of conference play.

“It was a huge confidence booster for us,” Esparza said.

Esparza picked up the win for Butler, pitching a complete game while allowing no earned runs.

“I didn’t even feel tired until later that night,” Esparza said. “I was running on so much adrenaline.”

During the past week, Esparza picked up five wins in six outings. The right-hander allowed only five runs in that stretch, while striking out 48 batters in 42 innings of wor.

Her efforts earned her Horizon League Softball Pitcher of the Week honors.

The Bulldogs jumped to an early lead when junior first baseman Erin Falkenberry drove in Sullivan with a single in the third inning.

But Cleveland State sophomore Tess Sito would hold the Bulldogs scoreless for the next 12 innings.

Sito pitched the entirety of the game for the Vikings, striking out 10 and allowing two earned runs.

“We were able to stay tough, mentally and physically, through the entire game,” Falkenberry said. “The hard work that we put in during the offseason has really paid off.”

Falkenberry was too tough to strikeout and hit a walk-off single in the 16th inning to win the game and clinch the weekend series.

One day earlier, Butler split a doubleheader with the Vikings, winning the first game, 3-1, before falling, 6-0, in the second game.

Again, Esparza recorded the win for the Bulldogs, hurling another complete game and allowing just three hits.

McNulty belted a solo home run in the first inning, finishing 1-for-3 with a pair of RBIs.

In his first season as head coach, Scott Hall has lead Butler to a 7-3 Horizon League record, currently good enough for second in the conference and a half game behind Wright State.

“We’re still learning,” Hall said. “As long as we can make sure that we’re not repeating mistakes, I think we’re going to be there at the end and ready for a run in the conference tournament.”

Butler will finish its nine-game homestand this week—one  game tomorrow against Valparaiso and three games against Green Bay beginning Saturday.

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Video by Elyssa Garfinkle

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Photos by Ryan Love

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