Softball: Kenton continues a season for the ages

First-year Kenton softball coach Brooke Austin had trouble finding the words to describe what she felt on Wednesday night after her team’s 4-2 win over Shawnee.

She settled for phrases like “it’s really cool” and “it’s awesome to see” when describing what it was like to see her team earn a share of the WBL title for the first time in school history.

Those words were fitting because any way you look at it, it is “really cool” and “awesome to see” Kenton (11-5, 8-1 WBL), a team that hasn’t had a league title in a girls sport since 1983, earn its spot at the top of the league standings.

It’s been just over 40 years since Kenton’s volleyball team finished its season with a record of 17-2 and 8-1 WBL and earned a WBL championship. A few members of that team included Anne Blumenschint, Tina Koch, Julie Pack and team co-MVPs Heather Spencer and Chris Cozad.

This year’s WBL champion softball team, just like the 1983 volleyball team, has many important pieces, but none bigger than senior pitcher Brynn Butler.

Heading into Friday night, Butler had a 14-4 record inside the circle with an earned run average of 2.27 and 107 strikeouts. She’s 8-1 in starts against WBL teams. Butler’s batting average currently sits at .597 with 39 runs batted in with two games left in the regular season.

“Brynn is a great player who does everything with confidence,” Austin said of her top arm and three-hole hitter. “She always pitches or goes up to the plate with a calm approach, and we can always count on her to make something happen. She’s had three walk-offs this year, and her pitching has been great. I can’t say anything more about her.”

Austin also believes that Butler’s performance has put her firmly in contention for the WBL’s player of the year award.

“She’s definitely up there for sure,” Austin said. “What she does on the mound and in the batter’s box is crazy. It’s all about the knowledge she has in certain situations, especially at the plate where she’ll get into a certain count and know exactly what her approach is on the next pitch. She’s great at getting her pitch and driving it.”

Butler has set the tone for the Wildcats from day one. On the first night of the season, she delivered the game-winning hit against Upper Sandusky. That clutch play has followed Butler since then, with a pair of walk-off hits in key WBL games against Wapakoneta and Elida.

“We like to bring it out in the end,” Butler said of her team.

“For me, I just go out there and have fun,” she said. “If I’m pitching and the batters walk up to their walkup song, I’m singing along and having fun. My confidence has also been key. Honestly, this is something I know I can do. I’ve come through for my team before and I know I’ll do it again.”

Close games have been a theme for Kenton this season, especially against league opponents. They might have even earned the nickname “Cardiac ‘Cats” from the success they’ve had in clutch situations.

Out of their nine league games, the Wildcats had eight games decided by four runs or less, and they’ve managed to pull out a victory in all but one of those nail-biters.

Austin said the key to those wins has been the unselfishness of her team.

“They’re just a great group. There are no cliques,” Austin said. “They work well together, and they step up when they need to. If someone goes in to hit for someone else, there are no hard feelings. They know what’s best for the team.

“Against Wapak we had someone that wasn’t hitting very well come out and hit a double. The same thing happened in the Elida game. The girls that aren’t stepping up consistently step up in the times that our usual consistent girls aren’t. It’s them playing really well off each other in these situations and they don’t give up.”

The Wildcats are now one Defiance (11-6, 6-1 WBL) loss away from winning the conference title outright. The Bulldogs have two league games remaining against Wapakoneta (13-7, 5-3 WBL) on Friday and Shawnee (5-12, 1-6 WBL) next Wednesday.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” Butler said of her team’s success. “I really wasn’t expecting this season to turn out the way it has so far. My team has really backed me up when I needed them. It’s just been a blast. I really honestly wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”

Kenton wraps up the regular season against Riverdale on Friday and Marion Pleasant on Saturday. Their first tournament game is on Tuesday at home against Napoleon.

Reach Chris Howell at 567-242-0468 or on Twitter at @Lima_Howell