As a charter bus rolled through the night across the Rockies and the Plains toward an early-morning hero’s welcome Monday on Butler Community College’s campus, sophomore Becca Schulte didn’t let her mind wander to topics like finality.
Schulte, an Andover Central product, and her Butler softball teammates returned from St. George, Utah, with their second consecutive NJCAA Division I title, this one emphatically punctuated with a 58-1 season.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet that I’ll never put on that Butler uniform again,” said Schulte, the Grizzlies’ shortstop. “I’m not really looking forward to that moment that it does.”
And why let go of the euphoria? After an 11-7 victory over Salt Lake Community College in Saturday’s championship, Schulte was chosen the tournament’s most valuable player and most outstanding offensive player.
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Schulte, who has signed to play at Oregon, batted .588 in five tournament games with four home runs, 15 RBIs and seven runs scored. Three of Schulte’s homers came in a 15-3 run-rule victory over Howard (Texas) – a total matched by her teammate and Eisenhower product Brynn Minor in the title game.
“She and Brynn just showed what they’re made of,” Butler coach Doug Chance said. “They’re both big-time players. They’re winners and they find a way to win.”
Schulte and Minor were cornerstones of a program that posted an 111-5 record the last two seasons, including an 88-game winning streak that Seward County stopped in the first championship game of the double-elimination Region VI tournament on May 7.
The Grizzlies rebounded later that day to defeat Seward 10-0 and rolled through the rest of the postseason with eight consecutive victories, outscoring their opponents 99-18.
“We had a lot of people with similar goals,” Schulte said. “Everyone was on the same page and had the same goals, from the coaches to the freshmen who didn’t play a lot. It was all about the team.”
Still, the dominance displayed this season by Butler seemed far-fetched during an early trip to Texas. Void of opportunities to practice outside because of wet weather, the Grizzlies struggled defensively. Butler overcame it with a prolific offense and the pitching of sophomore Regan Mergele. Mergele, from San Antonio, finished the season 29-0 with a school-record ERA of 0.75.
“I have a coaching friend who told me the thing about this sport, all it takes is one bad inning from a great pitcher or one bad inning defensively that can cost you a streak, can cost you a game,” Chance said. “In spite of how terrible we were defensively early on, a lot of that we overcame with our offense.”
Butler finished No. 1 among NJCAA Division I teams in nine offensive categories, including batting average (.417), home runs (135), RBIs (613), runs scored (658) and runs per game (11.2). Butler pitchers were second nationally in ERA (1.20) and first in strikeouts per seven innings (8.08).
Schulte, who finished the season with 108 RBIs, will leave Butler as its career leader in homers (42), RBIs (181) and runs scored (157).
“I definitely knew it was a good program when I decided to come here,” Schulte said. “I never imagined that we would have the success that we’ve had.
“I just think the reason we were so confident and never phased was we put in so much work in the offseason. I would put all the money that my broke college self has that no team worked harder than we had.”