Feb. 1, 2008
When Jeanne Rayman took over as Butler's softball coach in the fall of 2006, she inherited a team that was coming off a 17-30 season and a program that hadn't experienced a winning season in 16 years. She didn't make any bold predictions, but she proceeded to lead the Bulldogs to a nine-game turn-around, a school record for wins and the program's first winning campaign since 1991!
One year later, the Bulldogs are looking to build on that success and there's reason for optimism.
"We have a strong group of returning players, and we've added several talented new players," said Rayman, who guided the Bulldogs to a 26-24 season and a fourth place finish in the Horizon League Tournament last year. "We're deeper defensively at key positions and our offensive potential is better than a year ago. Last year we had to learn how to win. This year we have players who have tasted success, and they can provide the leadership necessary to continue moving forward."
Rayman has seven of her top eight hitters from a year ago back this season, led by seniors Amy Hyerczyk and Jenny Jacobs. Hyerczyk, a three-year starter at first base, was a second team All-Horizon League performer in 2007, while Jacobs, a three-year starting outfielder, was named to the Horizon League All-Tournament Team. Both players started all 50 Butler games last year.
Hyerczyk led the team and finished eighth in the Horizon League with a .375 batting average. She finished second in the league in doubles (15) and fifth in the circuit in total hits (60). Jacobs, who started in centerfield last year but will likely return to her natural position in leftfield this season, led the Horizon League with a school-record 38 runs batted in, and she finished fourth in the league in home runs with eight. In her first three seasons, she has slammed a school record 22 home runs.
The two senior sluggers will be joined by returning regulars Bridget Paine, Alex Boros, Annie Dolan, Lindsay Schluge and Melissa Shofroth. Paine, a sophomore shortstop who was named to the Horizon League All-Newcomer Team last season, was Butler's second-leading hitter with a .314 batting average, while Boros, who played both infield and outfield, finished third with a .286 average. The two should team in the middle of Butler's infield this season.
Dolan, one of the better defensive third basemen in the league, batted .281 last season, while starting all 50 games. Schluge also started all 50 games as a rightfielder and wound up leading the team in runs scored with 27. Shofroth took over as Butler's starting catcher last year as a freshman, and she compiled a team-best .991 fielding percentage.
The Bulldogs also return three of last year's top four pitchers, though sophomore Jennifer Chasteen will be sidelined at least until April following off-season arm surgery. Chasteen led the team with 10 wins in 2007. Her absence will leave Rayman looking to senior Nikki Naffziger, sophomore Kristen Malinkey and freshman Lauren Ott to carry the team's pitching load. Naffziger, who was named to the Horizon League All-Tournament Team, was 6-4 with a 2.85 earned run average and a team-high 95 strikeouts last year, while Malinkey was 1-4 with a 2.79 ERA. Ott, an extremely versatile performer, had 824 career strikeouts in four seasons as a pitcher at Mundelein High School.
Other players looking to challenge for playing time with the Bulldogs this spring are returnees Macy McMullen, Jen Arriaga and Kelly Cartwright, plus newcomers Erin Jackson, Kaytlin Taylor, Haley Oskins and Kelli Hahn. McMullen and Arriaga will contend for time in the outfield, while Cartwright, one of the team's senior leaders, adds depth to the infield. Jackson, an all-state performer at New Palestine High School, is a top candidate to play centerfield for the Bulldogs. She's a gifted switch-hitter, and she adds speed to the lineup on both offense and defense. Taylor gives Rayman a second option at catcher, while Oskins and Hahn both add depth to the corners of the infield.
"We were successful utilizing a style that fit our talent last year," added Rayman, a former standout player for the Bulldogs. "That's our goal again this year. We want to take advantage of the strengths of this year's team to build on what we've accomplished."
The Bulldogs will be tested early with five games at the Georgia Classic, Feb. 29-Mar. 2, and 10 contests at the Rebel Games, Mar. 9-14. The team begins Horizon League play at home on Mar. 22 with a doubleheader against defending regular season champ Loyola.