Redshirt sophomore infielder Paige Dorsett prepares to hit the ball against IUPUI on March 22. Photo by Claire Runkel.
APRIL KIRTS | SPORTS REPORTER | email@example.com
Butler’s softball team began the season with challenging competition and a troubling record. After losing five straight games at the beginning of March, the results on the field have fortunately turned around.
The Bulldogs came into this season after losing 11 graduated players, including Big East pitcher of the year Alyssa Graves. Changes such as this made it difficult to predict how the team would compete during the preseason. Coach Scott Hall discussed how most of the team came into this year with little experience as collegiate athletes, resulting in a different look for the team.
He predicted the beginning of the season would be difficult for a couple of reasons. One was that it takes time for players to get acclimated to working with each other during practice and on the field. That combined with a tough slate of opponents, the first few weeks proved to be difficult for the Bulldogs.
“I knew it was gonna take time, it was gonna be a rough start, and [we] just had to take our lumps and some things are coming together,” Hall said.
The Bulldogs started their season off with a tough lineup of teams, including some ranked in the top 25. They faced teams from multiple conferences including the Big 10 and Conference USA. One of the most difficult competitors included nationally ranked Missouri — sitting at No. 23 — who the Dawgs fell to 15-0.
Senior pitcher and infielder Mackenzie Griman said the team used those games to learn from and improve.
“We all banded together and learned from the mistakes that we had been making and then started to have timely hitting,” Griman said. “Then everyone just started to play more relaxed together as one and the team just had a really good mindset going into these last two weekends of conference play.”
By the time conference play came around, the team was feeling more relaxed and confident with each other and their skills. They started off Big East play with a three-game sweep against DePaul and a win over IUPUI, which sparked a fire for the Dawgs. After the sweep over Providence this past weekend, it’s evident that the Bulldogs are turning their season around.
The team has had to work on their fundamentals to get here. Griman said the team learned to play more for one another rather than their own personal gain.
“We lost focus of [doing the little things] at the beginning, but then once conference [play] came around, we started to do everything just a little bit more sharp,” Griman said. “And then playing more for each other. And then just really focusing on, ‘What can I do to help the team rather than just focusing on individual goals?'”
Making minor adjustments, focusing on fundamentals and working together as a team has proved to be beneficial for the Bulldogs.
First-year catcher Kieli Ryan is focusing on her personal fight in each game. For her and her teammates, it is imperative to stay mindful of the competition and keep themselves focused during each game.
“I think personally, it’s just taking each team,” Ryan said. “Not taking them lightly, just thinking of [how] every single game is going to be a fight, that nothing is going to be handed to us, that we have to fight for it, earn it.”
Hall said he can see the team improving. He wants their main focus to be on using every game as a way to learn something and improve.
“You know, there’s going to be some more bumps along the way, I’m sure,” Hall said. “But as long as we just continue to focus on getting better — and [realize that] a loss is not a loss if we learn from it.”
Trust plays a factor in a team’s success. Team chemistry plays a large role in this, which means first-year players and new faces on the team have to learn to be able to work well with their teammates.
Ryan feels that, as a new face on the team, her transition into the group has been seamless.
“Everyone was so welcoming to all of us freshmen when we first came, and we had a lot of team bonding,” Ryan said. “I just think everyone meshes really well together … I think everybody just loves each other and looks forward to being with each other every weekend and every day.”
Looking at this season from the perspective of a veteran, Griman has watched the team grow over the past three years. This year, when her role shifted to pitcher, Griman had to adjust, but she knew her teammates were behind her.
“Everyone just has high expectations for each other, and we’re gonna push each other to succeed in the end,” Griman said.
As for conference play, the Bulldogs have remained on top since their first conference game against DePaul on March 11. The Big East Conference has been known to hold very competitive teams, and Hall understands that there will be tough competition in every series.
“Every weekend is tough in conference [play],” Hall said. “It just comes down to not necessarily winning games, but not losing them. Because I think a lot of games are lost more than won by just errors and mental approach and at bats and things like that. So we just have to continue to grind games out mentally.”
Redshirt sophomore infielder Paige Dorsett recognizes UConn as a conference opponent they’re looking out for, while still focusing on playing one game at a time.
As a team, their goal is to win the Big East and make a name for themselves. Griman wants to “show everyone that Butler softball came to play and not to mess around.”
Hall never doubted his players or what they were capable of.
“This team has acted like a team from day one,” Hall said. “Losses can be tough on the psyche, sometimes, but this team has just really stuck together, and we have a great culture and one of the funnest teams I’ve been around in a long time.”
He believes in their potential and is looking forward to the rest of the season.
The Bulldogs travel to Nebraska this upcoming weekend to take on Creighton. Other Big East matchups include Villanova and UConn the following week.