Karli Ricketts at the plate last season. Ricketts leads the Bulldogs with seven home runs. Collegian file photo.
KEELEN BARLOW | SPORTS REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Butler softball team suffered its first losing weekend of the 2020 season during a five-game stretch at the Memphis Tournament March 6-8. The Bulldogs defeated Western Carolina and Youngstown State. They fell to Indiana State, Memphis and Belmont. Here’s what we learned:
1. Surviving the first rough patch
The 2020 season has been mostly good for Butler. The Bulldogs came into Memphis with a 12-4 record and were four wins away from matching their win total from all of the 2019 season. But the weekend in Memphis was a bit of a roller coaster. The Bulldogs won their opener, lost three consecutive games, then responded to win their finale in Memphis.
By no means is the sky falling, but this weekend was the first of the season where Butler did not have a winning record. This weekend marks one of the first roadblocks in what has been a remarkable turnaround for the Bulldogs this year. How Butler responds to this past weekend will be key going forward, mainly because they don’t have much time to rest. Butler will play seven games in five days next week in Madeira Beach, Florida. Big East play starts the following weekend with a trip to defending Big East Tournament champion DePaul.
2. Pitching staff comes back down to earth
Butler’s 12-4 start was built mostly on the back of its strong pitching staff. The team’s ERA of 1.91 heading into this weekend ranked 24th in all of DI softball. For the most part, Butler went as its pitching staff did this year.
But Butler took a step back in the circle this weekend in some regards. While their trip to Memphis was bookended by a pair of strong starts in the circle, the three games in between were less than favorable. In all, the Butler pitching staff threw 32 innings this weekend and allowed 25 earned runs. That gave the Bulldogs a team ERA of 5.46 for the weekend.
The Bulldogs’ season ERA dipped to 2.69 after the 2-3 weekend.
Twenty-one of the Bulldogs’ 25 earned runs this weekend came in their three-game losing streak. The nine runs that Butler allowed against Indiana State were the most of any single game since a 12-2 loss to Seton Hall in April 2019.
The staff will have plenty of innings next week to respond strong.
3. Home run hitting
Butler hit a total of seven home runs in its five games this weekend in Memphis. That brought the Bulldogs to a team total of 18 home runs through their first 21 games of the 2020 season.
The Bulldogs had only hit seven home runs at this point of the 2019 season.
Butler is tied for the second-most home runs of any team in the Big East with one week before conference play starts. DePaul and Georgetown also have team totals of 18 homers. Villanova leads the conference with 33.
Seven different players have hit a home run for Butler this season. They are led by Karli Ricketts’ oft-discussed seven bombs. But even Lauren Fey, who makes a living off small ball, hit her first career home run in the 7-1 win over Western Carolina on Friday.
Prior to the season head coach Scott Hall said he felt the biggest difference for the offense compared to 2019 was the development of more power. Under Hall, Butler has never been an elite team when it comes to putting balls over the fence. The most home runs a Hall-coached Butler team has produced was the mark of 34 during the 2015 season. Since joining the Big East, Butler has never ranked higher than sixth in the conference in home runs. Their 18 bombs so far this season matches the team totals from the 2014, 2016 and 2018 seasons.
The school record for team home runs in a season is 41 from the 2010 season.
Follow Keelen on Twitter @KeelenBarlow