JOE HASENSTAB | Staff Reporter
Over the weekend, Butler baseball played in its first Big East Conference series of the year, taking two of three against Seton Hall.
Coming into the series, Seton Hall had a record of 20-5 and had received votes to be ranked in the NCAA top 30. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs came into the series with an 11-16 record. The Bulldogs were looking to use this series to prove they were better than what their record shows.
“Obviously the season didn’t start off the way we wanted it to,” sophomore infielder Chris Maranto said. “We kind of went in every game knowing that we were better than we showed and we kind of went in with the mindset that even though every game is important, throughout the season the games that really matter are in the Big East.”
The series started off with a strong pitching performance from senior Gunner Johnson, who threw seven shutout innings against a Seton Hall lineup in which the first through seventh batters were all batting above .290. Junior Kyle Allen finished off the game, giving up one run in the last two innings to secure a 6-1 win.
Butler scored those six runs against Seton Hall’s ace, senior Josh Prevost. Before Friday’s matchup, Prevost was unbeaten at 7-0, with an impressive 1.45 ERA.
One thing that might have had an effect on the game Friday was the energy on Butler’s bench.
Senior closer Billy Laing said he thinks cheering from the bench not only helped his team but also hurt Seton Hall.
“I think it took their pitcher, who was supposed to be the best pitcher in the Big East, completely out of his own game,” Laing said. “He was physically rattled, and I think it helped our hitters gain energy and confidence at the same time. It made him lose focus on the mound and got this series going in the right direction.”
After a 7-3 loss on Saturday, the rubber match was set for Sunday. Junior lefty Eric Stout held back the Seton Hall bats. Butler put up five runs in the bottom of the fourth inning and led 6-5 after six innings.
Laing came in to pitch the final three innings. Butler added a run in the bottom of the seventh, and the Pirates were able to get one across in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. The Bulldogs claimed their first series win in Big East play with a 7-6 victory.
Laing said the Seton Hall series will help the team in the games to come.
“I think it gives us a huge amount of confidence going forward, especially out to St. John’s this weekend, who is supposed to be another great team,” Laing said. “Just knowing that you can compete with anybody now, and so the conference is kind of flip flopped of what the expectations were in the pre-season rankings of the year.”
After the series win, the team will try to continue its success, first with a game at home against Ball State today, and then with a three-game series against St. John’s this weekend.
Both Laing and Maranto agreed the team’s energy level will play a factor in the series at St. John’s, a team that is 11-1 at home this season.
“Playing at home for them has been a big thing, and I think the intensity is the biggest thing for us,” Maranto said. “We know we have the talent, and we know we can play with anyone in the Big East.”
After losing two of three to Villanova, St. John’s will look to bounce back against a Butler team that is still under .500. Laing thinks Butler will be able to use this to its advantage.
“They’re probably still overlooking us a little bit, even though we just took two of three from Seton Hall,” Laing said. “They feel like they should get back on track by playing us and we feel the opposite way—that we’re going to keep rolling and hopefully take them almost out of the race for the Big East after this weekend.”