The Butler women head to the Region VI championship for just the fifth time in program history, taking on No. 2-ranked Seward County at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
The winner advances to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament later this month in Lubbock, Texas.
The Region VI title appearance will be Butler's first since 2014 and the fifth in program history. Butler will be seeking its first Region VI championship. Butler is 0-4 with losses to Barton in 1992, to Independence in 1993 and 1996 and to Hutchinson in 2014.
Butler (27-4) is coming off a thrilling win over arch-rival Hutchinson on Monday in the semifinals. The Grizzlies trailed by as many as 13 in the first quarter, but went on a 17-2 run in the second quarter to take a brief lead. The game was tied 32-32 at the half.
Butler led 51-45 in the fourth quarter before Hutchinson came back to take a 60-56 lead with just over a minute to go. Kyla Callins scored and Jalise Smallwood hit two free throws in the final minute to tie the game. The Butler defense came up with one more stop, giving the Grizzlies the ball back with 8.1 seconds to go. Smallwood drove to the rim and was fouled with .6 seconds remaining. She missed the first free throw, but made the second to give Butler the win.
Seward (30-2) led by as many as 12 points in the fourth quarter in the semifinals against Barton and held on for a 63-58 win over the Cougars to punch its ticket to the finals. Barton led 13-12 after one quarter, but Seward led 34-31 at the half. The Cougars got as close as three points with 20 seconds remaining.
Carla Covane led Seward with 21 points and 12 rebounds while Silvia Veloso had 15 points and five steals. For the season, Veloso leads the team in scoring, averaging 13.9 points while Lexi Hernandez averages 13.0 and Covane averages 12.1
Barton has won 24 straight and was 19-1 in Jayhawk Conference play, with its only loss coming at Butler.
Mike Helmer (248-104) is the winningest coach in program history, now in his 10th season at Butler. He won back-to-back conference titles in 2015 and 2016. In 2014, he led Butler to an Elite 8 finish in the Grizzlies' first-ever trip to the NJCAA National Tournament. He has led Butler to two Region VI championship games (2014, 2019). Before Butler, Helmer was the head coach at Wichita South.
Austin Mefford (30-2) is in his first season at Seward, becoming the eighth head coach in program history. He comes to Liberal after five seasons as an assistant at Gulf Coast State College in Florida. He helped the team to three conference titles, three Region 8 titles and back-to-back NJCAA national titles in 2016 and 2017. Prior to Gulf Coast, he coached at NCAA Division I Coastal Carolina.
Butler defeated Seward 65-54 in El Dorado on Nov. 28. Butler trailed 19-15 after one quarter, but then outscored Seward 25-7 in the second quarter to lead 40-26 at the break. Seward surged in the third quarter and cut Butler's lead to just one point late in the third quarter before the Grizzlies pulled again late to win by double digits.
Butler is 3-7 against Seward over the past seven years. Their win in 2013 over Seward broke a 29-game losing streak to the Saints dating back to the 1998-99 season.