Four NCAA Div. III championships
DECORAH — No. 5 Luther College’s big bats couldn’t be contained as the No. 7 Central College softball team saw sixth-inning leads disappear twice and was swept 4-2 and 5-4 Saturday in an Iowa Conference-opening twinbill.
The Dutch (17-5 overall, 0-2 conference) took a 2-0 advantage into the sixth inning of the opener behind the pitching of Rhianna Fleetwood (junior, Sycamore, Ill.) but Luther (17-3 overall, 2-0 conference) struck for four runs, including three on a two-out home run by senior catcher Kelsey Kittleson.
With Central up 4-1 in the sixth of the nightcap, Luther erupted for another four-run frame.
“We had so many scoring opportunities but couldn’t get the key hit,” coach George Wares said. “Give Luther credit. They kept swinging the bat well and wouldn’t go away.”
Central got its runs in the opener in the first inning with the benefit of two walks, a hit batter and an RBI single by shortstop Annie Sarcone (sophomore, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS). Sarcone’s shot narrowly missed being a grand slam but with one out, the runners had to hold in case the ball was caught.
But the Dutch got just one hit the rest of the way off Luther ace Becca Girvan. Fleetwood (5-2) took the loss after being relieved by freshman Mallory Schulenberg (freshman, Kansas City, St. Pius X HS). Fleetwood had limited the Norse to just one hit in five innings before surrendering three hits in the sixth. She was charged with three runs, walking two and striking out one.
Central racked up 10 hits in the nightcap but only scored in a four-run third inning, stranding 11 baserunners. In the third, left fielder Rachael Everingham (senior, Georgetown, Ill., Georgetown-Ridge Farm HS) had a two-run hit while Sarcone and first baseman Kyrie Hale (senior, Lee’s Summit, Mo., West HS) each had RBI singles. Sarcone, second baseman Angela Davis (senior, West Des Moines, Valley HS) and right fielder Emily Te Brink (junior, Le Mars) had two hits in the game.
Brie Haycraft (sophomore, Eldridge, North Scott HS) threw 5.1 innings and dropped to 5-3. She gave up four earned runs on five hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. Fleetwood gave up one hit in throwing the final two-thirds of an inning.
“Rhi and Brie both pitched very well,” Wares said. “They were both in complete control for five innings. But in the sixth inning, we had no answer.”
It’s a rough start to a daunting six-day stretch that next sees the Dutch travel to Cedar Rapids to tackle No. 3 Coe College in a 3 p.m. league doubleheader. Coe is 22-2 overall and 2-0 in the league after pounding seven homers in an 8-0, 11-3 sweep of Wartburg College Saturday. Central finally plays its home opener Thursday, but must take on perennial NCAA Division III tournament contender Washington-St. Louis (Mo.) at 3 p.m. at the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex field.
Wares said his players need to focus on the remainder of the season.
“I’m glad we’ve got a couple of days to regroup,” he said. “You can’t keep thinking about it, we have two losses and it’s not going to change. Our objective is to get into the postseason and there’s still a great opportunity to do that.”