Four NCAA Div. III championships
TUCSON, ARIZ.—Showing some much-needed offensive spark, the Central College softball team opened the Arizona portion of its cross-country spring break trek with a pair of victories Tuesday.
The Dutch (4-4), who flew from Georgia to Arizona Monday, erupted for a six-run sixth inning to finish off Sul Ross State (Texas) 9-1 in six innings, then blanked Edgewood College (Wis.) 4-0 in the Tucson Invitational Games. Central had 13 hits against Sul Ross State and 18 overall. Freshman designated player Courtney Meyer (Newton) had her best day in a Central uniform with four hits, including a 3-for-3 effort against Sul Ross State. Left fielder Emily Te Brink (senior, Le Mars) continued her resurgence with a three-hit day while second baseman Abbey Strajack (sophomore, Davenport, Assumption HS) had three hits against Sul Ross State and scored two runs. Third baseman Whitney Sowers (sophomore, Marshalltown) continued her scorching start with two hits and three RBIs.
“It’s no big secret that we’ve been struggling offensively,” coach George Wares said, noting that the Dutch have stranded 48 runners in eight games. “We’ve had the right people up with runners on base, but it just hadn’t been happening. Everybody wants to do well and sometimes that just makes you overly tight, so without question, it was good to end (the Sul Ross State game) with a big inning.”
Wares said he’s seeing offensive progress from several players.
“Certainly Emily Te Brink is starting to play with more confidence,” he said. “Whitney (Sowers) is still hitting well, Courtney Meyer had a great day and I think Caitlyn (Meyer) is finding her stroke.”
Te Brink has upped her average to .375 while Caitlyn Meyer is hitting .353.
Mallory Schulenberg (sophomore, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) threw five innings of shutout ball against Edgewood, giving up just two hits and a walk to go with five strikeouts in improving to 2-1. Brie Haycraft (junior, Eldridge, North Scott HS) gave up three hits and a walk with two strikeouts in the final two frames.
In the opener, freshman Kelsey Stender (Belle Plaine, Minn., Belle Plaine HS) threw a five-hitter in evening her record at 2-2. She yielded no walks while striking out eight.
Rhianna Fleetwood (senior, Sycamore, Ill.) was slated to start one of Tuesday’s games but was withheld for precautionary reasons after suffering an injury Saturday. Wares is encouraged that the Dutch pitching staff remains effective in her absence.
“Not many teams could lose the player that might be considered the ace of the staff and survive as well as we have,” he said. “Mallory (Schulenberg) has got a pretty good rhythm going and is very confident right now. And Kelsey (Stender) is getting there, too.”
Central’s defense warrants some credit as well, Wares said. The Dutch had just one error on the day and Wares was especially happy with the infield play, singling out the work of Annie Sarcone (junior, Des Moines, Dowling HS) at shortstop and Strajack at second base.
Central faces one of the team’s top Arizona week opponents Wednesday, taking on 13-5 Texas Lutheran University at 11 a.m. before meeting Marian University (Wis.), 2-6, at 1:30 p.m. Staying sharp after traveling extensively and suddenly playing in the desert heat is a challenge but also a necessity for the Dutch, Wares said, noting that the environment is different than it was in last weekend’s NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga.
“This is a different atmosphere,” he said. “The intensity in the Leadoff Classic was like a midseason game. But the players did a good job of maintaining their intensity today.”
Regardless of the location or environment, improvement is the focus.
“We’ve got to keep going,” Wares said. “We’re nowhere near where we want or need to be. But we took another small step forward today and hopefully we’ll do that again tomorrow.”
Updates throughout both games will be available on the Central athletics Twitter feed, @CentralDutch.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SCOTT HAYCRAFT