The Butler softball team looks to start their 2019 season on a higher note than last year’s finish. Last year, the Bulldogs did not qualify for the Big East tournament for the first time since 2015. Losing six straight games against DePaul and St. John’s at season’s end squashed any hopes at a postseason run.
Now, the team wants to move on from the past, learn from the mistakes they made and work toward a successful 2019 campaign. If anyone knows what it takes to compete in the Big East, it’s head coach Scott Hall.
Hall will enter his ninth season leading the Bulldogs and has seen the team transition between seasons and between leagues. When he first coached Butler in 2011, he led the team to 32 wins and a record 14 Horizon League conference victories. When the Bulldogs made the move to the Big East in 2014, they won 24 games and placed a respectable fourth, but missed out on the postseason due to tiebreakers.
“My first year coming in, in 2011, I was as green as the freshmen coming in. I was learning along with them,” Hall said. “Now being nine years in, I think I have an idea of how to get them ready and prepared for a season.”
Butler’s preparation didn’t begin a couple weeks or even a couple months prior to their February 8 debut. In fact, the Bulldogs played exhibition games during fall to stay loose and familiarize themselves with the new roster.
“I like the fall season because we’re getting this brand new group of people together and seeing what we can do,” said junior outfielder Alyssa Garcia. “There’s new players and people coming back with better skill-sets and things like that. Or coming off injuries and trying to bounce back as a player in a different way. I think that the fall is just kind of like seeing what we have to work with.”
Garcia will continue to play a big role as one of the Bulldogs premiere outfielders. As a freshman, she received ample playing time due to injuries, but she filled the role well and started in 46 of the 52 games played in 2017. She showed promise in her sophomore season as well. Garcia found more success as a slap-hitter and improved her batting average to .224, up 3.4 percent from her first year. In addition, her fielding remained stellar, only committing two errors over the course of the season.
Goal setting was important for Garcia to grow as a player. “I wrote down some ‘unreasonable’ things that probably won’t happen, but I can shoot for. But also ‘reasonable’ things that are definitely possible to make better,” she said. “Every day I try to work on at least one of them.”
Garcia and others agree that having a positive attitude is something that helps the team develop and move beyond the grind of balancing a long season with school. With the season running from early February until early May, it can be easy for players to get tired between traveling to games and catching up on coursework.
“If you focus on it being a grind, it can be,” Hall said. “But if you focus on it being a great opportunity, then it can be that as well.”
The coaching staff relies on its leaders of the team to “take the temperature” of players to understand where they are mentally and physically. They want to ensure that the roster is healthy–not only as players, but as students as well.
Senior Kaitlin Doud understands the importance of her role on the team. She anticipates that new members of the team will look to her for motivation, so she ensures they show pride in their school. Her message to new players: “Embrace every moment and make the most of it because it’s not going to last forever. There are people who would love to have the opportunity to put on a Butler uniform and go out on the field.”
Doud knows what it takes to win a Big East championship. As a freshman, she started every game and finished the season with a .314 batting average, hit six home runs, and had 41 RBIs. This production helped lead to Butler’s Big East championship in 2016. She’s played practically every position, from outfield to pitcher, where she had a career best 3.56 ERA in 2018.
Her main goal for the team: leave it all on the field and prepare as best they can for each matchup. “We have a lot of good talent this year, so as long as we keep working hard, good things will happen.”
The Bulldogs begin the 2019 season with a series of invitationals located in locations such as Clearwater, Florida, and Bowling Green, Kentucky. The nonconference matchups will allow Butler to grow as a unit before Big East play begins March 23.
With a roster comprised of nine upperclassmen and a head coach with nine years of experience with the Butler program, the Bulldogs look forward to the season ahead.