by Eric Oslund
The Zimmerman softball team finished the 2016 season with a 13-9 record, and it was done so on the back of pitchers Ashley Pool and McKenna Butau. Pool was more of a fastball pitcher and Butau was a junk-ball pitcher, so the two of them were able to work side by side all season long and really keep opposing hitters off balance.
Pool graduated after the conclusion of the 2016 season, which meant Butau would have to take on a bigger load during her senior year. And so far it’s been working out well for the Thunder.
The team recorded their fourth win in a row on Tuesday, April 25, improving to 5-2 on the season. While Butau didn’t start the game, she came in to start the fourth and closed out the final four innings with five strikeouts, two walks, zero hits, and zero runs allowed.
Those are the type of numbers she’s been posting in a lot of the games this season, and it’s a big reason why the Thunder have been as successful as they’ve been. But if you were to watch her during a game, it wouldn’t appear as though she is playing well.
She has a stern look on her face most of the time, and the reason why is she always feels she could be doing even better.
“I am just really hard on myself,” Butau said. “So if I walk someone, or my drop ball doesn’t drop I’m hard on myself, but really it doesn’t effect the team. I just feel like it does because I’m hard on myself for pitching.
“I have sass to me and like to be a perfectionist, so if I make a mistake I blame myself for it.”
Most of the time, when players get hard on themselves about some part of their game, or for some mistake they made, their play begins to move in a downward spiral. Slowly getting worse and worse as they try to overcompensate and make more and more mistakes. But not Butau.
Her game actually seems to get better when she is hard on herself, which is why her head coach Emily Zahn usually just lets her go when she sees a scowl start to form, instead of running out and trying to calm her pitcher down.
“I actually don’t mind when McKenna gets a little mad because sometimes she pitches a little better,” Zahn said with a bit of a laugh. “So I kind of let her do her thing. She’s just a perfectionist, so she gets upset with one walk. She walks one or fewer a game, so it’s not a problem.”
Along with taking on a bigger work load as a pitcher, Butau has also had to step up into more of a leadership role. The Thunder lost five seniors after the conclusion of the 2016 season, so there were plenty of holes to fill in that area of the game.
“All that leadership was gone and no one really wanted to step up,” the senior pitcher began. “I, personally, am super shy. So yes, I see myself as a leader, but I’m more laid back.”
Even though she describes herself as more of a shy, and laid back person, her head coach has definitely seen her mature during this early season, and step into that leadership role the Thunder were needing to fill.
Pitcher is just one of the natural leadership positions out on the softball field. They are the ones typically controlling the pace of a game, and players will often look towards them for that reason. And instead of shy away from the moment, Butau has seemingly embraced it.
“I was really hoping she would step into a leadership role this year and she has,” Zahn said. “She’s really uped it and been more of a vocal leader, which is great. When you can have your pitcher be a vocal leader it’s really beneficial for the team. Especially a team like ours, we have a newer lineup, so she’s been doing good things.”
It’s hard to say where the season will go for the Thunder this year, but Butau is hoping for a first place finish in their conference, and she has certainly gotten them on the right track in being able to do just that.