The Butler softball team runs out to the field. The Bulldogs are picked to finish third in the Big East. Collegian file photo
CHRIS BROWN | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
More than a half dozen players on the Butler University softball team can still remember being crowned Big East champions two years ago.
“It’s been nice tasting it, but we want a second order of it,” head coach Scott Hall said. “We’re excited to try and get that.”
Despite finishing with a 23-29 overall record, the team went 11-9 in conference play, qualifying for the Big East tournament before being eliminated in the first round. Butler was picked to finish third in the Big East coaches preseason poll.
Four true freshmen join 14 returning players in what Hall described as a mix of experience and new talent.
“If you’re heavy one way or the other, you’ve got to change your coaching a little bit,” Hall said. “But the older kids are helping the younger kids, and hopefully when it gets to crunch time, we have enough experience that’ll help us, plus enough young, exciting kids that’ll help push us over the top.”
The Bulldogs have roughly six weeks of games in warmer climates before conference play begins in mid-March.
Hall said their biggest struggle at this point is the Indianapolis weather. Once they can practice outside though, he said he believes they’ll have a better handle of what to focus on.
“We’re just looking to improve every game,” Hall said. “That’s our biggest thing. Find out early on what our areas of improvement need to be and build on those.”
“Having that tough pre-conference lineup is going to make it a lot easier,” senior outfielder Sarah Dixon said. “We’re going to learn so much more than we’d expect. I’m looking forward to playing the more difficult teams.”
Pitching and catching
On the mound, the Bulldogs bring back plenty of experience, and Hall said each pitcher brings their own skill set.
“Ambry [Turpen] is probably our hardest thrower,” Hall said. “Gabbi Schnaiter spins [the ball] really well. [Kaitlin] Doud is just a really good defensive, pitch to contact [player]. And [Alyssa] Graves is a great change of speed kid.”
Doud, who played throughout the infield in addition to pitching over 100 innings and leading the team in ERA, was named to the All-Big East second team last season.
“Last year I had the opportunity to step up and pitch a lot,” Doud said. “If that’s my role [again] this year, then I’m looking forward to doing it. But I’ve been rotating around in all positions in the infield, just doing whatever I can to support the team.”
Juniors Sammy Andersen and Cheyenne Thompson are among the Butler’s options behind the plate. Thompson, who entered 2017 as a shortstop, moved positions after the Bulldogs’ primary catcher sustained a season-ending injury.
Senior Alyssa Lach, a three-year starter, returns as to third base as a leader among younger infielders.
“She’s our anchor in a lot of ways,” Hall said of Lach. “She’s been tremendous so far with her leadership, helping the younger ones. And obviously her play has been solid for three years.”
Sophomore Madi Christiansen is expected to start at first base, while the middle infield positions are more flexible. Freshmen Maddie Moore and Claire Gilliland and junior Doud, whose five home runs last season tied for the team lead, are options at second base and shortstop.
Butler’s outfield features plenty of experience in All-Big East second-team selection Jenna Foreman and Dixon, a three-year starter who shifts back to the outfield after spending significant time at shortstop last year. Foreman led the Bulldogs with a .371 batting average, while Dixon tied Doud with five home runs and led the team with 27 RBIs.
“The skill level is in all places,” Foreman said. “I don’t think there’s too many weak spots. I definitely see us going to the Big East Tournament.”
Foreman, who broke Butler’s single season steals record with 30 stolen bases, said she would like to break her own record and be a bit more consistent overall. She also said she’s excited about the group of outfielders she will be playing alongside.
“We have a ton of speed, and a lot of confidence in every single outfielder,” Foreman said. “Yeah we only have four or five outfielders, but I think all of them can be interchangeable because of how skillful we all are.”
“When they can shrink the outfield, that’s big,” Hall said. “It’s tough for a lot of balls to find green out there.”