WICHITA, Kan. – The Butler softball team is headed to the NJCAA Division I World Series for the second consecutive year and the fourth time in program history, but only after taking a detour to win the Region VI championship on Sunday at Wichita State's Wilkins Stadium.
After an 11-3 win over Colby on Saturday, the Grizzlies found themselves in the loser's bracket on Sunday after dropping a 2-0 decision to Garden City. Butler then faced an improbable path to the championship, having to win three consecutive games on a warm, humid day.
First, Butler had to get by Colby by a 2-0 score. Then the Grizzlies had to beat gritty Garden City team twice, winning the first game 1-0 and the second game 4-1 to punch their ticket back to St. George, Utah for the national tournament.
Butler played 28 innings on Sunday and 33 innings over the two days. Pitcher Mac Millspaugh threw 24 of those innings (21 innings on Sunday with more nearly 400 pitches thrown), allowing just three runs, while her twin sister, Alex, caught all 33 innings behind the plate.
The Grizzlies, who were also Jayhawk Conference champions for the second straight year, will head to nationals with a record of 39-16. The Grizzlies have finished the season winning 17 of their past 18 games and have gone 26-4 since a loss that left them just one game over .500.
Butler 11, Colby 3
The Grizzlies started the tournament on Saturday with a five-inning, run-rule win over Colby as all three of Butler's pitchers saw action in the game. Mac Millspaugh started and threw three scoreless innings, while Heather Ryder and Kelsey Berlin each pitched one inning in relief.
Butler had three players with two hits apiece, including Alex Millspaugh who had a solo home run and drove in another run with a single. Kelsey Berlin and Kaitlyn Wolken also had multiple hits. Alyssa Aguilar drove in two runs with a single in the fourth inning.
Garden City 2, Butler 0
With the win over Colby, Butler advanced to the final four of the tournament where they would face third-seeded Garden City.
The Broncbusters would outlast Butler in a pitching showdown, as lefty Sarah Cochran and Mac Millspaugh each shutout the other side for the first six innings.
Garden City got two runs in the top of the seventh with RBIs from Aspen Kincaide and Ashley Gibson. Butler could not answer, dropping the Grizzlies into the loser's bracket.
Butler had just three hits, one each from Ashley Malone, Mac Millspaugh and Alex Millspaugh.
Butler 2, Colby 0
Facing elimination, Butler turned to pitcher Kelsey Berlin to face a Colby team that had just eliminated second-seeded Seward County.
Colby hung tough behind the pitching of Dominique Padilla, who would allow just two runs. Those came in the third inning – one on an RBI groundout by Berlin that brought in Domi O'Nelio and the other on a throwing error by the catcher on a failed pickoff attempt at third base, allowing Rachel Harper to score.
Berlin threw a complete-game shutout, scattering six hits while striking out three and walking one.
Butler 1, Garden City 0
Butler's win over Colby put Butler in the championship game, but the Grizzlies would have to win two games since Garden City had yet to lose in the tournament.
In another quick-moving pitching battle, Butler scratched for just one run, that coming in the fourth inning when Alyssa Aguilar singled to drive in Kaitlyn Wolken from second base. Aguilar was the only Grizzly with multiple hits in the game.
Mac Millspaugh made that lone run stand up as she threw a complete game for the shutout, allowing four hits and walking four while striking out eight, earning her second win of the tournament.
Butler 4, Garden City 1
Butler coach Doug Chance decided to start Mac Millspaugh again, not knowing if she would last even one inning due to the fatigue of already having thrown 14 innings on the day.
Millspaugh turned in a gutty performance, pitching all seven innings and allowing just one run on six hits while striking out five while walking two.
Butler struck early against starting pitcher Emily Hurlbert. The Grizzlies loaded the bases and scored its first run when Alex Millspaugh was hit by a pitch. Sarah Cochran, who had pitched the first two games of the day against Butler, was brought on in relief, and she hit Alyssa Aguilar with a pitch, forcing in another run.
Garden City cut the gap to one on an RBI double by Alyssa Strobehn in the fourth inning, but the Grizzlies answered with another run in the bottom of the inning thanks to two Garden City errors.
Butler got its fourth and final run in the bottom of the sixth inning when Domi O'Nelio hit into a fielder's choice, scoring Alyssa Aguilar from third.
Kelsey Berlin made a crucial out to end the sixth inning with a running catch in foul territory in right field. She collided with the fence as she made the catch, with her knee breaking through the wooden fence. She would leave the game but is expected to be ready to play in time for nationals.