Sports

Athlete Spotlight: Nikki Butler’s extra work is paying off for La Habra

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La Habra sophomore catcher Nikki Butler.

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

After suffering a knee injury that forced her to miss six weeks of her freshman season, La Habra softball catcher Nikki Butler is doing more than making up for lost time this year.

Through 18 nonleague games this season, the sophomore is batting .500, while also wreaking havoc on opposing baserunners from her position behind the plate.

In games against marquee names, such as Yorba Linda, El Modena and Marina, Nikki has raised her game. She credits an offseason workout regimen focused on legwork as the reason for most of her success thus far.

“Last season, I struggled coming off an injury,” she said. “Being a sophomore, I wanted to improve my stats and it’s worked well. I worked a lot with my legs in the offseason. Taking 6-8 weeks off was a difficult time that I had to get through. I did a lot of work with my hitting and strengthening my fundamentals to get back on the field.”

Even when the sophomore is not hitting, Nikki is patient at the plate and gets on base in 57 percent of her plate appearances. She has yet to strike out this season.

“It’s a credit to her hard work to come back, she’s caught a lot and her backup is a freshman,” said Frank McCarroll, La Habra head coach. “We’ve asked Nikki to take on a bigger role with the pitchers, we’ve asked her to lead the way and she’s done a great job. We’re lucky to have her.”

In an upset win over Yorba Linda, Nikki went 3-for-4 and blasted a home run off standout pitcher Paige Von Spraekel. Against El Modena, she also went 3-for-4 as the team went on to win 5-4.

Even in a 9-0 defeat last week to a very good California High team, Nikki helped the team by reaching base in three of her four plate appearances by earning two walks and a base hit.

It’s been a brilliant bounce back year after she suffered an injury to her Lateral Collateral Ligament in her knee, which sidelined her for six weeks of her freshman season.

“I was a little shaky after coming off the injury, so coming into this season, I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it, I can come back from the injury,” Nikki said. “Playing the bigger teams, I just know to keep my cool and remember that it’s just another pitcher, it’s just another game.”

As impressive as her work has been swinging the bat, her work behind the plate is has further impressed McCarroll.

In addition to putting pressure on would-be base stealers, Nikki has also played a big part in the pitching game, having worked with Taylor Pierce in travel ball, and helping freshman Janelle Rodriguez get comfortable in the circle.

“People don’t run on us, she’s been very successful throwing people out and holding people on base,” McCarroll said. “Our average for strikeouts-per-game is down this year, so if our catcher can pick someone off or throw someone out, that could kill a rally and it’s been a huge help.”

When it comes to catching, Nikki developed the craft from her father, who also played the position in baseball.

In addition to his guidance, she said that she’s been blessed to have some great coaches along the way. She also watches collegiate softball and picks up on little things from different players to help with her game.

“I’ve been blessed with some amazing coaches along the way,” Nikki said. “Just picking up from other girls, from what I’ve seen at the college level, I’ve taken a little bit from each one and that’s inspired me into the catcher I am today.”

Those little additions have helped to turn Nikki into a threat behind the plate, meanwhile, her extra work in the offseason has been a huge boost to her game at the plate.

As the team begins its Freeway League journey on Tuesday, Nikki said her goal is to remain focused at the plate, while keeping a level head, regardless of what her performance looks like.

“I just want to continue to maintain with my mechanics and stay within myself,” Nikki said. “I also want to make sure I don’t get too high after a 4-for-4 game, just keep a level head and hope for the best. Defensively, it helps our pitcher knowing that if a runner gets on, I can try to take them off. I also want to make sure we’re communicating and keeping the energy up.”

While Nikki isn’t on the field, she enjoys science, more specifically her Honors Chemistry class and she has a desire to study marine biology in college.

She also said she enjoys veterinary science because she loves animals.

When she has free time, Nikki enjoys spending time with her family.

“I really like being around little kids, they make me happy,” Nikki said. “I love to play with them and make them smile, it makes my day.”

Nikki’s biggest role model is her father, who pushed her initially to play softball and spent plenty of time with her in bonding over the catcher position.

“My dad is a big role model in my life, when I started playing softball, he told me to put gear on and told me I was going to catch,” Nikki said. “I’ve never had a catching coach since he started working with me in the backyard. I’ve been pretty blessed to have amazing coaches along the way, they’ve inspired me to be the player I am today.”

Because of those efforts, the sophomore has developed into one of the biggest pieces to the La Habra softball program.

Needless to say, McCarroll is excited she’ll be hanging around for a couple more seasons.

“We’re excited about the possibilities,” McCarroll said. “She’s the real deal, she’s legit. She’s only a sophomore, but she’s a leader. Defensively, in a ball game, we give her the responsibility to lead and she’s always positive. She’s got the potential to be a game changer on both sides. We’re excited to have her and happy she’s healthy.”

Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.