Why Cowley and Butler don’t play in softball

ASHLY BRIGHT

In the process of putting together our juco softball previews on NJCAA Division I No. 11 Butler and NJCAA Division II No. 3 Cowley that ran in today’s Eagle and at Kansas.com, one of the questions I asked both coaches – Doug Chance at Butler and Ed Hargrove at Cowley – was why the two schools don’t play each other.

Turns out, there’s some lingering bad blood between the schools. And it all goes back to a Cowley pitcher named Ashly Bright, a 2006 doubleheader that never happened, the difference between NJCAA Division I (Butler) and NJCAA Division II (Cowley), some hurt feelings and two completely different stories on what went down.

According to Chance, the Grizzlies were scheduled to play a doubleheader at Arkansas City. He didn’t think the Grizzlies could beat Cowley twice because of Bright, who would end up being a unanimous pick for Jayhawk East player of the year and pitch for Wichita State.

“She was so good, just dominant,” Chance said. “We didn’t think we could beat her, but we thought we might be able to get one game from them, from another one of their pitchers.”

Chance said that Hargrove called him a couple of weeks before the doubleheader was scheduled to be played and said Cowley would only play one game of the doubleheader against Butler, and would bring in another team to play the other game.

That didn’t sit well with Chance, because Butler and Cowley were both Division II at the time – Butler is now Division I – and he wanted both shots at Cowley, who would finish the year No. 2 in the national rankings.

Chance then had Butler assistant coach Zack Sigler call a Cowley assistant at the time — someone Zigler had worked with before — and cancel the doubleheader.

“I didn’t think that was right, for them to not play us both games because we had an agreement in place,” Chance said. “Since Zack had someone on their staff he knew, I had him call them.”

This is where the stories diverge in a big way.

“(Chance) had his assistant call us and cancel, and I think they didn’t want us to play because of Ashly, who was so dominant,” Hargrove said. “We never proposed bringing in another team. They cancelled on us and left a huge hole in our schedule.

“The assistant said it was because of budgetary concerns … which I find hard to believe because the schools are only 60 miles apart. Doesn’t make sense.”

Hargrove also admitted that their had been  lingering problems between the schools dating back to before Chance took the job, and in the battle for recruits.  From my perspective, Hargrove has been dogged in publicizing his team – if there’s any mention of Butler in the paper, brief or story, there’s usually a follow-up e-mail asking for the same for Cowley and citing the battle for recruits. Usually, the e-mails are pretty heavy-handed, but I understand he’s trying to promote his team.

“We split on going after a lot of the same recruits,” Hargrove said.

And that leads to the Division I vs. Division II stuff – Butler is one of five teams in the Jayhawk that play Division I, which means they’ve chosen to go against jucos around the country with full scholarships, something the Jayhawk does not offer. Cowley is one of 16 Jayhawk schools that play DII and go against other partial and non-scholarship jucos.

“I think one difference you can see is where we place players,” Chance said.

That’s actually a good point – take this for example – Cowley outfielder Laura Seeman has signed with Emporia State. Seeman was an All-American last season. Butler pitcher/outfielder Kelsey Berlin, a similar player is headed to Arkansas. Butler has a glut of Division I players on their roster, already signed. The Tigers might have one this year. How successful they’ll be on the next level is anyone’s guess, but the perception from NCAA Division I programs is that the juco DI schools are producing more talent right now.

That’s not to say the teams won’t ever play again – Chance said he’s approached Cowley about setting up games, which Hargrove confirmed, but said he’s taking more of a wait-and-see approach.  Chance said he’d even be willing to pay for the umpires to make it happen.

“We want to play,” Chance said. “Anytime, anywhere.”

-TA