After redistricting, transfers, coaching change, Butler softball looks strong once again
by Andrew Stark
The Butler High softball team is used to winning. In fact, since 1997, when the school first opened its doors, the Bulldogs have won four state championships, most recently when they went a combined 83-1 in 2006, 2007 and 2008, claiming the title each year.
Last season, the school zoning lines were redrawn between Butler and Independence high schools. As a result, the Bulldogs “struggled” through a 13-10 record while rival Independence went 17-6 overall. The Patriots had one of their best seasons ever with several players who had played at Butler the year before playing big roles in the Patriots’ newfound success.
This year, the Bulldogs are 12-5 overall and looking to restore the proud tradition of Butler softball behind a host of gifted and productive underclassmen. Juniors Shannan Mas and Caroline Barnette, sophomore Meagan Quintero and freshman Allison Barnette each bring a unique talent to the field, but together are looking to lead the resurgence of the Bulldogs’ program.
Mas is the team’s primary pitcher and can be as dominant as any player in the Southwestern 4A conference, which is evident by her six shutouts this season. She also has a 1.80 ERA and has recorded 136 strikeouts in just 101 innings. At the plate, Mas is batting .350 with a home run and eight RBIs.
Quintero plays a solid second base and is hitting .393 at the plate. She also leads the team with a .607 slugging percentage and has 10 RBIs.
Caroline Barnette is one of the best defensive third baseman in the conference and is batting .404 with 19 hits and, along with senior Brianna Capristo, has a team-high 15 RBIs. She also plays the role of protector for her younger sister, Allison, as the two form the left side of the Butler infield.
Allison Barnette has burst onto the scene and leads the Bulldogs with a .404 batting average. She also is tops on the team with 21 hits and 16 runs scored, plus she’s driven in 11 runs and has range and a good arm at shortstop.
“I have talent on this team, but we are young,” said first-year coach Barry Eberhardt, who had been a Bulldog assistant since 1997 and worked under title-winning coaches Stephen Lloyd and Brian Cottom.
“Shannan is a really good pitcher who can be amongst the best,” Eberhardt continued, “Meagan helps the defense and can hit, and Caroline is simply fantastic as a player, a person and a leader. Allison, though, is probably as good as any player that I have had here. She can do a little bit of everything.”
The Bulldogs all agree that this team is a much more cohesive group than last year, and the results have paid off on the field.
“I think we have made a lot of progress from last season,” Mas said. “We have freshman starting for us, and we are all playing well. Our hitting is always getting better, and we are a lot stronger this season than last year.
“Last year, we had different people playing different positions and … people (weren’t playing) where they were used to playing. But we came out of it this year a lot stronger because of it.”
Aside from Allison Barnette, freshman Elizabeth Swenson has started all season and is hitting .279 with eight RBIs. Apart from the big contributions from the freshmen starters, another memory that made the Bulldogs stronger this year was losing to Northwest Guilford in the opening round of the state playoffs a season ago.
“Losing so early last year was really tough,” said Caroline Barnette. “I think this year’s team is better because of it, and it has made us work harder to go further this time.”
The hard work they have put in has paid off, as Caroline Barnette, Mas and Quintero have significantly improved from a year ago, at least statistically. Last season, the three combined for a .149 batting average and drove in just 14 runs in 168 combined at-bats. This year, they have three of the four highest averages on the team and already have 32 combined RBIs.
The Bulldogs’ turnaround has been ignited by the improved play of their three returning stars and the arrival of freshman Allison Barnette.
“Having Allison on the team has helped us out a lot,” Caroline Barnette said. “Last year our lead-off hitters weren’t consistently getting on base, but Allison is this year, and she has the highest average on the team as a freshman.”
Still, there is room to grow as the Bulldogs look to close out the season on a high note. They are currently one game behind Myers Park for second place in the conference standings, as both sit behind Independence.
After starting hot, Butler has gone just 6-4 during its past 10 games, but the Bulldogs feel they are positioned well to finish where they want to be.
“We are having a much better year overall, but we need to be more consistent with our hitting,” Quintero said. “We are much more of a team and have a more togetherness aspect this year, but we need to make sure we are making the routine play and cutting down on our errors.”
Eberhardt said that while his underclassmen are talented and the main contributors on offense, he gives his four seniors – Capristo, Shelby Collins, Carley Stitz and Kayla Brookshire – credit for helping to create cohesion.
Carolina Barnette said this year’s group of 12th-graders has taken on more of a leadership role than past senior classes, and that has helped keep the team focused.
“(The seniors) are encouraging and have a lot of experience,” Allison Barnette said. “They help keep a positive team attitude for everyone and are especially helpful to the freshmen.”
As the seniors have helped keep the team focused, the Bulldogs are reminding themselves that softball is meant to be fun and should be played that way.
“We have been really trying to keep the younger girls into softball,” Mas said. “In the past, a lot of the young players have not come back the next year, and we want to have fun with it and not treat it so seriously. We are trying to have fun out here while we also are winning games.”
No matter how the season’s final games and the postseason play out, the Bulldogs appear to have gotten themselves on track and reinvigorated a once-highly successful program. The Barnettes, Mas and Quintero all will return next year, and they’re proud that they’re helping to take the program in a positive direction for future seasons. However, they’re excited to see just how far they can go this year.
“If we can continue to be confident in ourselves and our teammates, we can easily make it a lot further than last year,” Caroline Barnette said. “We have the talent and confidence, and we have a lot more depth than last year, but we play as a team and we are working hard to get better.”