Butler softball team's youth hasn't been hindrance
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A senior leading off. A freshman behind the plate. A junior on the mound and a pair of sophomores batting second and third in the order.
On the Butler softball team, graduating class doesn't matter. Everyone is contributing.
“We're like a big family,” senior MacKenzie O'Donnell said. “We all work for the common goal: We want to get a section title and get that banner up there in the gym.”
Out for its second playoff appearance in the past decade, the Golden Tornado entered the season with relative inexperience because of a young roster and a pair of seniors who did not play last season because of injury, or to concentrate on another sport.
“With the mixture of girls that we have, freshmen and sophomores playing and also juniors and seniors, it's still an overall young team we have,” coach Dan Hindman said. “Our goal is always to make the playoffs with a high goal of winning the section. The reality is for us the year may be scratching into the playoffs. That's a definite goal of our team, and the expectation of the coaching staff.”
Defense, both Hindman and O'Donnell said, appears to be Butler's team strength. Sure-handed senior Caitlin Baxter is a stabilizing force at shortstop, sophomore Rachel Rebmann has been solid at first base, and O'Donnell is versatile and skilled enough to be trusted at a variety of positions.
“Our defense is pretty solid, both in the infield and the outfield,” Hindman said. “We're executing in the field and making all of the plays that need to be made.”
“We've been doing pretty good in the field,” O'Donnell said. “We're always concentrating on that and making it a focus, working on double plays in practice and other different kinds of plays to keep our defense sharp.”
Baxter and O'Donnell are considered quiet team leaders, Hindman said. Neither played for Butler last season: Baxter was recovering from a torn ACL injury sustained during basketball; O'Donnell chose not to play softball as a junior. Both are playing key roles now, though.
O'Donnell bats fourth in the Butler order. Baxter, the Golden Tornado's leadoff hitter, had the best batting average on the team through five games.
“She had great hands and great athletic ability at shortstop,” Hindman said. “And she's been coming through with the bat a little more than I expected, even though I was hoping for big things from her. A lot of the girls look up to Kate. She's such an athlete.”
But after the two senior “newcomers,” many of the other Butler's other prominent roles are occupied by youngsters. Rebmann hits in the No. 3 spot, and freshman Katelyn Bronder has filled in at catcher and designated hitter.
Sophomore Emily McDonald typically was second in the batting order during the early days of the season and serving as the Tornado's top pitcher. Junior Hope Wonderling, a starting outfielder, also pitches.
“It's a good combination,” Hindman said. “One (McDonald) is a little slower (velocity) with more control, and one (Wonderling) is a little faster with a little bit of movement in her pitches.”
Senior Aubrey Schmeider and junior Madison Graham entered the season as returning starters in the outfield.
“I believe we have a good team,” O'Donnell said. “We have talented players. Our fielding is good. If we can just get our bats going, we'll win a lot of games.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.
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