The Western Nebraska Community College and Butler Community College softball teams bring a combined 75 wins into Wednesday’s District E Final at Volunteer Field.
WNCC, who captured the Region IX championship on Saturday by downing McCook Community College 14-5, enters the District E final with a 35-18 record. Butler enters the best two-of-three series with a 40-6 record and a No. 10 ranking in the latest ranking in the national polls.
Wednesday’s first pitch is slated for 4 p.m. with the second game around 6 p.m. The if-necessary game is scheduled for noon on Thursday.
The winner advances to the NJCAA National Tournament May 22-25 in St. George, Utah.
WNCC coach Katelyn Groves said they are not doing anything different to prepare for Butler.
“We are preparing the same way we have all season by focusing on us and what we need to do to be successful,” she said. “We will need to pitch well, play solid defense, and have timely hitting. We will need everyone all in and together.”
WNCC enters the district final winners of 19 of their last 21 games since April 1. The Cougars own a 12-game winning streak.
Groves said the team is playing well and buying into the scheme of play.
“This team has been successful because of their ability to play together and their heart,” she said. “This team has amazing fight and it’s been fun to see them enjoy the season.”
When you talk about fight in a team, the Cougars find a way to win, including in Friday’s Region IX opener when they faced a 2-1 deficit against McCook in the seventh inning and scored two runs on a Bri George single to win 3-2.
Against Butler, WNCC will need to play strong start to finish. Groves knows it will be battle come Wednesday afternoon.
“I know they pitch well, hit well, and will run a little bit,” the Region IX coach of the year said. “Our philosophy all year has been to focus on the Cougars and what we do well – I know that Butler is a solid team that if we don’t play Cougar ball, they’ll take advantage of it.”
Butler won the Region VI title with an 8-5 win over Barton Community College. The Grizzlies have won 15 straight, last falling on April 16 when Labette Community College topped Butler 5-4.
WNCC and Butler have two common opponents in Northern Oklahoma-Enid and Garden City Community College. The two squads won twice against Garden City and split a doubleheader against Northern Oklahoma.
WNCC topped Garden City 8-0 and 12-4 while Butler won 15-2 and 8-0. Butler topped Northern Oklahoma 14-4 before falling 6-0. WNCC lost 6-3 to NOC-Enid before rebounding with a 13-6 win.
WNCC’s win at regionals was the first for the Cougars since 2016. WNCC has won seven regional titles. Groves said the regional title was special for a team that has bought into what Cougar ball is al about.
“The win in the region tournament was awesome; it was great to see the team truly just play ball and have fun,” she said. “I’m hoping that we take the energy and confidence that we showed during the Region IX Tournament into tomorrow. The girls have learned a lot throughout the season and I look forward to watching them use that in the district games against Butler.”
Butler and WNCC are two similar teams, especially on offense. Butler is batting .368 as a team with 70 home runs, 92 doubles, 421 runs scored, and 207 walks. WNCC is batting .351 as a team with 67 home runs, 117 doubles, 13 triples, 454 runs scored, and 154 walks.
The Grizzlies have four players batting 400 or better. Olivia DePew at .522 with two home, five doubles, and just 23 at bats.
Taliya Talley, a freshman, is batting .461 and leads the team in home runs (18) and runs scored (50), followed by Brianna Robinson, a sophomore, at .417 and Makensey Pankers, a sophomore at .402. Robinson is second on the team in home runs with 16 and had 10 doubles, whole Pankers has five home runs, 13 doubles, 36 runs scored, and 24 RBIs.
WNCC has four players averaging .400 or better in hitting. Michaela Kelly leads the team with a .484 average with 14 home runs, 18 doubles, five triples, 66 runs scored, and 74 RBIs. Emma Glawson is next with a .469 average with 18 doubles, eight home runs, 31 runs scored and 37 RBIs.
Bri George follows with a .445 average and 11 home runs, 11 doubles, 35 runs scored, and 48 RBIs. Mickie Mills, who was named Region IX’s Freshman of the Year, is batting .409 with 14 doubles, 14 home runs, 65 runs scored, and 45 RBIs.
Butler’s strength is pitching, where the team has a 2.45 earned run average. Butler’s ace is Megan Johnson with a 2.10 ERA with 100.1 innings pitched and 66 strikeouts. Johnson is 16-3 on the season.
DePew, a freshman, has a 13-2 overall record with 71.1 innings pitched with a 2.66 ERA, whle Kaylee Burnett, a sophomore, has a 2.18 ERA and leads the team with 82 strikeouts.
WNCC has four arms to pick from in the circle. Emma McMillan leads the team with a 16-6 record and a 3.51 ERA. McMillan tossed 157.2 innings in striking out 92. Mills comes in with a 9-4 record and a ERA of 4.11. She has struck out 73. The other two pitchers are Emma Glawson at 7-4 and an ERA of 5.04, and Reagan Solomon at 1-2.
Groves said it would mean a lot if this team could make a trip to nationals. The last time they competed at nationals was 2015 when they defeated Barton 6-4 and 7-4 in the district finals at Volunteer Field.
“This team has worked hard on and off the field and a trip to nationals would mean everything,” she said. “I’m proud of this team for what they have accomplished thus far and look forward to watching them compete tomorrow.”