Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — Pitcher Rhianna Fleetwood (junior, Sycamore, Ill.) notched her career-high 11th win with a three-hitter and the No. 6 Central College softball team subdued Cornell College 4-2 and 4-1 Sunday.
Fleetwood, 11-2 after going 10-0 last season, yielded an unearned run in the first inining of the nightcap following a leadoff triple, then limited the Rams (19-13 overall, 6-6 Iowa Conference) to just three baserunners the rest of the way. She walked two—one intentionally—and struck out two.
Brie Haycraft (sophomore, Eldridge, North Scott HS) improved to 9-4 in the opener. She gave up one earned run on five hits with one walk—which was intentional--and five strikeouts.
“I was pleased with how both pitchers threw,” coach George Wares said. “For both to get complete games and for Rhianna to do it on back-to-back days is very encouraging.”
Fleetwood has usually pitched the opening game of doubleheaders but Wares went with Haycraft Sunday, after she lasted just two innings in a frustrating 9-3 loss to Simpson College Saturday.
“When a player is someone I’m pretty confident in, like Brie, I like to get them right back out there after a subpar performance,” Wares said. “She’s a competitor and she wanted the ball today. I thought she responded very well.”
Wares noted that Central (28-6 overall, 9-3 conference) has limited opponents to two runs or less in 10 of the past 11 games.
Meanwhile designated player Abbey Strajack (freshman, Davenport, Assumption HS) had three more hits, giving her eight for the weekend.
“She’s starting to become the type of leadoff hitter we thought she could be,” Wares said. “Batting as the DP is not easy, but she’s shown the ability to run the count against a variety of pitching and is becoming a more complete hitter with the ability to lay down a bunt, slap and power slap.”
The Dutch had seven hits in Sunday’s opener and eight in the second game against a staff that has posted six shutouts in April. Senior Jill Trzaska, who picked up three strikeouts in the opener Sunday to break the Cornell school career strikeouts record with 309, had thrown 19 straight scoreless innings. But Central struck for two runs in the first inning and another in the second.
Shortstop Annie Sarcone (sophomore, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) had three hits and two RBIs on the day. She’s batting a team-high .451 but Wares likes her defense as well.
“She’s making plays at shortstop that are way beyond routine,” he said.
Right fielder Emily Te Brink (junior, Le Mars) had two hits, scored a run and stole a team-high 19th base in the opener but had to leave the second game after being hit in the face by a pitch.
Central stole eight bases on the day and passed the 100-steal mark for the 16th time since 1990. The Dutch have 103 steals to opponents’ 11.
Central has just one day off before another league twinbill, traveling to Storm Lake to take on Buena Vista at 3 p.m. Tuesday. The Beavers, another swiftly improving league club, are 16-12 overall and 6-6 in conference action. Pitcher Chancey Wilke is 13-8 with a 1.81 earned run average. Buena Vista posted a doubleheader sweep at Cornell April 10.
“They’ve got a senior pitcher who’s been around and is throwing well,” Wares said. “They’re much improved.”
With just four conference games remaining, Central trails first-place Luther College by two games while holding a two-game advantage over third-place Simpson College. The top six teams advance to the conference tournament, hosted by the league champion May 3-5.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to play our way into pretty solid position for the conference tournament,” Wares said. “And we’re in great shape for the postseason, but we have to continue to play well.”