Four NCAA Div. III championships
DECORAH—A comeback that sprang to life with startling suddenness ended just as quickly as No. 19 Coe College held off the No. 6 Central College softball team 3-2 Friday in the Iowa Conference tournament, getting a game-ending double play on an attempted squeeze bunt.
Coe (34-9) advances to Saturday’s 1 p.m. final in the double-elimination tournament. Central (32-8) must come back at 11 a.m. against the winner of Friday’s elimination game between top-seeded host Luther College and Simpson College. Saturday morning’s winner must then defeat Coe twice to secure the league tournament title and an accompanying automatic berth in the 61-team NCAA Division III tournament.
Coe’s all-American pitcher Ashlee Simon had the Dutch stymied, limiting them to a pair of hits by right fielder Emily Te Brink (junior, Le Mars) through six innings, and carried a 3-1 lead into the seventh.
But catcher Kyrie Hale (senior, Lee’s Summit, Mo., West HS) fought off a couple of 0-2 pitches then lined a single to right to lead off the seventh. First baseman Jordan Overland (sophomore, Madrid, Boone HS) reached on a throwing error and she and pinch-runner Heidi Reburn (junior, New Albin, Kee HS) scrambled to second and third base, respectively.
And when center fielder Holly Von Fumetti (senior, Johnston) beat out an infield single, driving in Overland, the Dutch were within 3-2 with the tying run at third base. Von Fumetti then stole second, putting the potential winning run at second with no outs and suddenly the Dutch were smelling a comeback victory.
But following a strikeout, a Central gamble failed. Te Brink tried to squeeze the tying run home with a bunt, but Coe first baseman Taylor Riedl was charging hard. She fielded the bunt, tagged Te Brink, then flipped the ball to home plate where Reburn was called out to end the game.
“I thought our response in the bottom of the seventh was really, really good,” coach George Wares said. “We had a really good chance to tie it. But on the last play, the first baseman made a nice play. There are a lot of players who would not be able to do what she did. It was probably a 50-50 call at the plate and it just went against us.”
The game started in equally unusual fashion. A leadoff double and sacrifice bunt put a Coe runner at third base with one out and the Kohawks’ heavy hitters due up next. Hoping to avoid an early deficit against with the stingy Simon in the circle for Coe, Wares elected to intentionally walk the next two hitters.
But a slow roller by Coe’s Danielle Schlotterbeck brought home a run. Following another intentional walk, a two-out bloop single drove in two more.
“I felt pretty good that we could get a ground ball after the intentional walks,” Wares said. “We got the ground ball, but it just wasn’t hit quite hard enough to get a double play. Looking back, we maybe could have got out of it scoreless.”
Central came back in the bottom of the first and loaded the bases as well on two walks and a Te Brink single, but settled for a single tally on a sacrifice fly by Angela Davis (senior, West Des Moines, Valley HS).
Coe had a couple of other scoring threats but Haycraft and reliever Mallory Schulenberg (freshman, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) held the Kohawks scoreless the rest of the way. They got a big lift from Te Brink, who helped gun down two runners from right field.
“Emily made some big-time plays with her throws,” Wares said. “And she had two solid hits. That’s maybe as good of a day as she’s had in a Central uniform. Hopefully that will continue. It should boost her confidence.”
Haycraft (9-6) gave up four hits with no walks, other than the intentional passes, and no strikeouts in four innings. Schulenberg allowed two hits with three walks and no strikeouts in three innings.
“Other than the first base hit, Brie actually pitched pretty well,” Wares said. “And I thought Mallory was solid.”
It was an emotional setback but Wares is confident the Dutch will emerge stronger.
“I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “The players have a clear understanding that in games like this it’s going to come down to a play here and there. It’s similar to what the regional will be like. I’m not a proponent of having a conference tournament, but one benefit is that you have to go through a lot and that helps prepare you for the regional, particularly the freshmen.”
To win the league tournament will now require three straight wins Saturday.
“The fact that we have a deep pitching staff helps us in a situation like this,” Wares said. “We don’t have to throw too many innings with one pitcher.”