DAYTON - What a difference a year can make.
The cancellation of the 2020 season was a worst case scenario for the Butler Aviators, who were coming off of a 24-7, District Championship season - and coming back fully loaded.
As much as the lost 2020 season was a nightmare, 2021 was the perfect dream.
Sadly for the Aviators and their fanbase, the dream season came to end Saturday afternoon as Elder outlasted Butler 4-0 in extra innings.
"Sad to have this dream season end," said Butler head coach Trent Dues.
"Four years for this group flew by", Dues said of his eleven seniors.
The season was a historic one to say the least for the Aviators, who set new records for the most wins in a season and runs scored in a season at 328.
Run 329 would have likely sent Butler to it's first Division I Final Four, and only the second since 2000 - but the runs simply eluded the Aviators on this day.
“Nothing-nothing into the eighth inning and how many situations did we get out of?” Dues said. “We just couldn’t buy the big hit today. How many times have you heard it in baseball? Obviously, we’ve been getting the hits. It just didn’t happen today.”
Starting pitcher Kaden Echeman (9-0) was brilliant through seven innings of work, holding Elder to just three hits, while striking out seven.
For Echeman the performance was no fluke. The right-hander has been a force for Butler all season, and a lethal part of a pitching 1-2 punch with Quinton Hall.
Committed to play for Lake Land College next spring in Mattoon, Illinois - the Lakers got a steal in Echeman, who finished the year with 83 strikeouts and an eye popping 0.685 ERA through 61.1 innings of work.
It looked like the Aviators were on the cusp of booking their trip to Akron in the bottom half of the sixth inning. With just one out and the bases loaded Butler had it's best opportunity to get the much needed run - but the Panthers were able to hold off the Aviators charge.
The Panthers finally broke through in the eighth inning, making life difficult for freshman Jordan Taylor who came on in relief of Echeman.
“He’s only 15 years old,” said Smith, Butler’s senior catcher. “For him to step up in a regional final game, I was proud of him. He did his job. He threw strikes, got his off-speed over. He really competed.”
Dues said, “Jordan’s been great for us all year. It’s not his fault. They had some things roll their way.”
For Butler, while the season ends two games short of the ultimate goal - the excitement, production and new standard set by this team will be talked about for many years to come.
"As their AD and a community member, I could not be more proud of how they represented us," said Butler Athletic Director Jordan Shumaker.
A sentiment echoed by the droves of fans that followed and celebrated each step of the season with the Aviators.
While it's sad to see this chapter of Butler Baseball come to a close - there is no doubt that Aviators Baseball is thriving and the future looks very bright.