CHICAGO, ILL. -- Jenny Esparza is more than the top pitcher in
the Horizon League. With Butler’s season on the line,
Esparza delivered the biggest hit of her young career to lift the
Bulldogs to a 1-0 victory over UIC in the championship round of the
league tournament at Loyola Softball Park on Saturday, May 14.
Esparza blanked the Flames through seven innings of the showdown contest. UIC pitcher Devin Miller matched the Butler ace, pitch for pitch, and carried a no-hitter into the bottom of the seventh frame.
But Esparza ended the no-hitter and the game with one swing of the bat. Butler’s leadoff hitter in the seventh, the sophomore from Avon slammed a shot into the wind and over the centerfield fence to lift the Bulldogs into a final league title game against the Flames. Her walk-off home run was her second round-tripper of the tournament and her third of the season.
Esparza, beaten by the Flames in the final inning a day earlier, put the Bulldogs in position to win with another strong pitching performance. She had nine strikeouts in the game, boosting her tournament total to 51, four shy of the Horizon League record. She only allowed one base runner through the first four innings. The 2011 Horizon League Pitcher of the Year picked up her 18th win, matching the Bulldogs’ single season record that she set a year ago!
Miller (16-17) was equally impressive. She had nine strikeouts and only allowed one ball out of the infield, a fly-ball to center field, until the seventh inning.
Butler improved to 32-23 on the season, the second-highest win total in Butler softball history.
The win set up a rematch between the two teams for the league crown. That game was suspended because of rain in the fourth inning with UIC leading, 5-2. The championship game is slated to resume at 10 a.m. (CT) on Sunday, May 15.
Photo by Steve Woltmann