The Butler Bearettes softball program has been undeniably elite in the past decade. Nonetheless, their teamâ€™s expectations are high, and they have still come up short of the goals they have striven for in recent years. Kayla McCauley, senior outfielder for Butler, explicitly states what she wants for this season: â€œState â€“ I just want to go to state my senior year. I feel like we have a good chance to make it.â€
Every high school athlete, regardless of sport, dreams of going to the state tournament at least once in their high school career. Despite not having been in the tournament since 2007, Butler was the favorite out of the sixth region to be crowned as regional champ and become Kentuckyâ€™s best softball team of 2015.
Coach Brittany Braun recalls an upset loss to a mediocre Bullitt East team last year in the first game of the regional tourney as an important reminder for her team:
â€œI think us getting beat in the first round of regional last year was a wake-up call because we were expected to win it last year. Now that we got beat, they realized that we have to work that much harder to not let that happen again.â€
Since then, Braun says the team has gotten stronger in their pitching. The Bearettes will be relying on the arms of juniors Annabelle Ramirez and Hailey Whitmer in the circle to make it tough on opponents to drive in runs.
â€œIt came in the offseason work that Hailey and Annabelle and other pitchers put in,â€ Braun adds. In order to be a good pitcher, a lot of the work has to be done on your own. You canâ€™t take a season off. You have to work all year, and I think that is why our pitching has gotten so much better.â€
Butler is currently 8-3, again one of the top teams in the region and averaging 5.8 runs a game while giving up an average of 3.4 runs to their opponents.
To keep the momentum going, Ramirez believes unity will be whatÂ keeps the team headed in the right direction toward reaching their goals. â€œThis year, we are going to have to come together as a team and use a lot of teamwork,â€ she says. â€œWe are all really talented in our own individual ways. But for us to get to where we want to be this year, which is to win state and to win the region, we will have to work as a team.â€
One of the biggest strengths of the Bearettes clubhouse this year is their versatility. Whitmer says it works to the teamâ€™s advantage as it builds the confidence of the other players. â€œWe have a lot more girls who can play multiple positions. By them stepping up and taking on the responsibility, others have gained more confidence in them. Everyone just has more confidence within each other.â€
Braun agrees that confidence will be essential this season: â€œWe have to overcome mistakes in a positive way instead of dwelling on them. We have to get past it. The first week of the season we were struggling with that, and now it seems it is getting better.â€
Much credit goes to the leaders and upperclassmen. Many of them have been playing varsity since their freshman year, and in retrospect, positive reinforcement has been the approach they have taken as they foster the current underclassmen.
â€œI think we have better leadership this year,â€ Braun adds. â€œThey know what it is like to be a freshman, so instead of telling underclassmen everything they are doing wrong, they take them under their wing and guide them in the right direction.â€
Butlerâ€™s goals are clear this season. Coach Braunâ€™s plan is to make sure that her team is focused on making their goals a reality. It all starts with growth:
â€œYes, everybody wants to go to state. My goal at the same time is to teach these kids how to win with sportsmanship and to get better as the year goes on. If we are the same at the end of the year as we are now, to me that hasnâ€™t been a good year. For us, we have to get better and to first win district and then win one game at a time in regional. Yes, it would be lovely to go to state â€“ I think that is everybodyâ€™s main goal â€“ but mine is for them to get better from last year to this year.â€ VT
Photos by RANDY WHETSTONE JR.