Butler Advances To League Championship Game

Butler Advances To League Championship Game

CHICAGO, ILL. -- Just hours after suffering a heart-breaking, final inning loss to UIC, Butler rallied to post a 5-4 victory over Valparaiso in an elimination game at the 2011 Horizon League Softball Championship at the Loyola Softball Park on Friday, May 13.  The win earns the Bulldogs a rematch with UIC in the league title game.

Sophomore Jenny Esparza, who sustained the 2-1 loss to UIC in a winner’s bracket game, bounced back to pitch and bat the Bulldogs past Valparaiso.  She had two of Butler’s nine hits in the game, and she pitched the final two-and-a-third innings to pick up her 17th win of the season.

Esparza, who began the second game as the Bulldogs’ designated player, gave Butler a 2-0 lead with a two-run, home run to left field in the second inning against the Crusaders.  She then came on to pitch with two outs in the fifth inning and finished the game, while the Bulldogs rallied to pull out the victory.

Valparaiso (34-21-1) scored twice off of Butler starter Jennifer Chasteen in the third inning to tie the game, and the Crusaders took a one-run lead, 3-2, with a single unearned run off of relief pitcher Breanna Fisher in the fifth inning.

But the Bulldogs (31-23) bounced back with two runs on a pair of hits, an error and a wild pitch in the bottom of the fifth.  Mallory Winters started the inning by reaching base on an error, and Erin Jackson followed with an infield single.  A sacrifice bunt by Meaghan Sullivan advanced the runners, and Erin Falkenberry followed with a run-scoring infield single.  Jackson then scored the second run on a wild pitch.

Butler added another run in the sixth inning on a single by Esparza, a sacrifice bunt by Kayla Gray, a single by Alyssa Coleman and a run-scoring single by Winters.

That run proved to be crucial when the Crusaders mounted a seventh-inning rally.  Two walks and an infield single loaded the bases with one out.  Sara Strickland hit a sacrifice fly to center field to plate one run, but Esparza ended the threat by striking out KC Boldt to end the game.

Butler looked to be headed to the championship game hours earlier, taking a 1-0 lead over UIC to the seventh inning.  Esparza, who allowed just two hits through the first six innings, recorded her 11th strikeout to start the final frame, but Ashley Hewett followed with a solo home run to tie the game.  The Flames then came up with a single, an infield out and a walk, before pinch-hitter Claire Donyanavard singled to left field to plate the winning run.

The Bulldogs took the lead in the fifth inning on a single by Jackson, a sacrifice bunt by Sullivan and a run-scoring double by Falkenberry.

Butler will face UIC again at noon (CT) on Saturday, May 14.  If the Bulldogs win, the two teams will play again at 2 p.m. for the Horizon League crown.