Butler to play No. 9 Howard (TX) today in NJCAA 2nd round

Butler to play No. 9 Howard (TX) today in NJCAA 2nd round

ST. GEORGE, Utah – Butler softball's quest for a national championship continues today with a second-round contest against No. 9 Howard, Texas at 3:30 p.m. CST at the 2017 NJCAA Division I National Tournament.

The top-seeded Grizzlies (54-1) won their opening game Wednesday with a 9-1 run-rule victory over Snead State, Ala., while Howard (47-12) powered its way to a 12-6 win against eighth-ranked Tyler, Texas, by hitting six home runs.

Butler opened last year's national tournament against Howard, with the Grizzlies winning 11-2 in six innings. With a win today against Howard, Butler would set the school record for most wins in a single season, eclipsing the 2013 squad who went 54-4 while making the NJCAA Final Four.

With a win, Butler would advance to Friday's quarterfinal round where they would play the winner of No. 4 Chipola, Fla. (58-6) or No. 5 Central Arizona (51-9) at 1:00 p.m. CST. With a loss, the Grizzlies would play tonight at 8:30 p.m. CST in an elimination game against the No. 10 Chattanooga State (44-12) / No. 15 Georgia Military (46-16) winner.

Butler has one of the top offenses in the country as the Grizzlies currently lead the nation in batting average (.417), home runs (118), runs batted in (568), runs scored per game (11.2), on-base percentage (.491) and slugging percentage (.754).

The Grizzlies also have one of the nation's top pitching staffs with a 1.17 earned-run average (2nd-best in NJCAA D-I) and a .186 batting average against (3rd). Butler leads all teams in strikeouts per 7 innings (8.45) and has 391 strikeouts on the season, which ranks third.

Howard's offense is also one of the best in the nation, as the Hawks are hitting .390 (11th among NJCAA D-I teams) with 83 home runs (6th), 503 runs batted in (5th) and averaging 9.5 runs per game. Howard also ranks in the top 10 in walks (247, 2nd), runs scored (559, 4th), hits (649, 10th), doubles (133, 6th), extra base hits (220, 9th) and total bases (1,039, 8th).

Howard sophomore designated hitter Kaylynn Lopez leads the team offensively in batting average (.470), home runs (20) and doubles (22) while driving in 70 runs. Other players to watch are first baseman Mariah Young (.431, 11 HRs, 60 RBI), third baseman Jackie Mercado (.431, 10 HRs, 45 RBI), catcher Evelyn Loyola (.418, 11 HRs, 56 RBI), shortstop Tiare Lee (.364, 12 HRs, 71 RBI) and outfielder Madoline Seumalo (.451, 7 HRs, 42 RBI, 18 stolen bases).  

The Hawks' pitching staff has a 3.28 earned-run avearage (53rd) with 225 strikeouts (52nd), while opponents are hitting .281 (43rd) against them. Sophomore Celeste Villagrana leads Howard's staff with a 15-6 record, 3.09 earned-run average and 100 strikeouts in 127 innings pitched. Mickaela Brown (15-4, 2.71, 66 K, 118 2/3 IP) and freshman Kylie Shay (13-1, 4.22, 53 K, 83 IP) are other pitchers to watch.

Howard is coached by Kelly Raines, who has guided the Hawks to four national tournament appearances (2011, 2012, 2015, 2016) in her 12 seasons. In the last seven seasons, Raines has averaged 47 wins per season. 

Gameday links for Thursday's contest:
VIDEO: http://portal.stretchinternet.com/butlercc
LIVE STATS: http://butlergrizzlies.com/sports/sball/2016-17/boxscores/20170518_5jzu.xml
IN-GAME UPDATES: http://www.twitter.com/butlergrizzlies

NOTES: Butler has won six straight national tournament games. The Grizzlies are 12-12 all-time in NJCAA D-I Tournament play and 5-3 in first-round games... Under head coach Doug Chance, Butler is 1-1 against Howard... Butler and Howard faced six common opponents this season. The Grizzlies went 15-1, while Howard was 10-3.

 Butler   Howard
Opponent Date Score    Opponent Date  Score 
vs. Navarro (TX) Feb. 3 W, 9-7          vs. Barton Feb. 10 W, 5-2
vs. Lamar State-Port Arthur (TX)    Feb. 4  W, 12-5   vs. Seward County Feb. 10 W, 5-1 
vs. Vernon (TX) Feb. 17  W, 4-0    vs. Vernon (TX) Feb. 10 W, 11-4
vs. Tyler (TX) Feb. 24  W, 13-1 (5)    vs. Lamar State-Port Arthur (TX)    Feb. 11  W, 3-0 
vs. Navarro (TX) Feb. 26  W, 7-1    vs. Navarro (TX)    Feb. 11  W, 6-2 
vs. Kilgore (TX) Feb. 25     W, 11-1 (6)    vs. Navarro (TX) Feb. 17  W, 3-2 
at Barton Apr. 7 W, 10-0 (5)
W, 11-1 (5)
  vs. Tyler (TX)  Feb. 17    L, 7-5
vs. Seward County Apr. 17 W, 10-2 (5)
W, 10-1 (5)
  vs. Tyler (TX)  Feb. 18    L, 10-7
vs. Barton Apr. 23 W, 8-0 (6)
W, 15-2 (5)
  vs. Vernon (TX) Mar. 3   W, 6-3
W, 17-1
at Seward County Apr. 24  W, 2-0
W, 14-2 (5)
  vs. Tyler (TX) Mar. 4  W, 9-8
L, 12-7
vs. Seward County May 6 W, 10-1 (5)    vs. Tyler (TX)  May 17   W, 12-6
vs. Seward County May 7 L, 6-5
W, 10-0