Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — Central College is the No. 2 seed in a six-team NCAA Division III softball regional and will take on No. 5 seed Wis.-River Falls Friday at noon at Central's A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex softball field.
The Dutch (35-8) earned an automatic berth by winning the Iowa Conference tournament Saturday in Decorah. Wis.-River Falls (30-13) claimed the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tourney crown Sunday.
The Pella Regional is the only six-team bracket among eight regionals in the 61-team field. There’s a seven-team regional in Tyler, Texas that also begins Friday while the other six regionals feature eight teams and begin Thursday. Regional tournament play must be completed by Monday.
In the Pella Regional, Luther College (36-6) is the No. 1 seed in the double-elimination tourney and meets St. Scholastica (Minn.) (32-10) Friday at 10 a.m. while No. 3 St. Thomas (Minn.) (37-7) faces No. 4 Coe (34-11) at 2 p.m. The loser of the Luther-St. Scholastica game and the Central-Wis.-River Falls loser meet in an elimination game Friday at 4 p.m. Play continues with four games Saturday and as many as three on Sunday.
Tournament website—The Pella Regional website has more detailed tournament information that will be updated throughout the weekend at http://www.central.edu/athletics/softball/12regional/.
Different format—The Dutch were anticipating being part of an eight-team bracket as they were the past three years.
“It’s different than we expected,” coach George Wares said. “I like having the extra day before we play after the weekend we went through at the conference tournament. But it’s a tougher field. When you only have six teams, it’s less likely that you’ll have any easy games. In this area, you’re not going to have a lot of weak teams.”
Wares anticipates good crowds.
“I like the fact that we’re at home,” he said. “We’ve got a great history of support here.”
Wares said the Dutch have several areas where he’d like to see improvement this week. But he’s not altering his team’s approach.
“You don’t want to change much,” he said. “It’s not just another tournament, in terms of its importance, but it is, in a sense, just another tournament. You’ve got to keep doing what you’ve been doing.”
24th tourney berth—It’s Central’s 24th Division III tournament appearance in the past 27 years. Only Ithaca (N.Y.) has received more NCAA berths, with 25. Central has an 83-45 tournament record, winning NCAA championships in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 2003 while finishing second in 1986 and 2001. The Dutch are in the tournament for the fourth straight year, placing second at last year’s regional behind eventual national champion Linfield (Ore.).
It’s the ninth time that Central has hosted a softball regional and the second year in a row. The national finals were staged at Central in 1992.
The road to Salem—The eight regional champions will advance to the Division III finals in Salem, Va. May 18-22.
Other regional hosts are Alma College (Mich.), Amherst College (Mass.), Christopher Newport University (Va.), Eastern Connecticut State University (Conn.), Illinois Wesleyan University, Kean University (N.J.) and the University of Texas-Tyler.
On the air and online--A live video webcast of each game can be viewed through the Central athletics website at http://www.central.edu/athletics/live/. Central’s games will also be broadcast on KRLS-FM (92.1) with veteran sportscaster Trevor Castle and streamed through www.kniakrls.com.
Central (35-8), which was assured of its berth in the 61-team field by winning last week’s Iowa Conference tournament, is making its 24th NCAA tournament appearance, the second-highest number of appearances in Division III. It’s the fourth straight year the Dutch have been selected. They finished second in the regional last year and have captured four NCAA titles (1988, 1991, 1993, 2003).
Tickets—Ticket gates will open one hour before the opening game each day. Prices are $6 for adults, $3 for students and $2 for preschool children. An all-tournament pass is $15. For additional ticket information, call the Central athletics office at 641-628-5226.
National rankings—Top-seeded Luther is ranked No. 4 in the NFCA Division III coaches’ poll, while Central is No. 6, St. Thomas is No. 14 and Coe is No. 19.
League tourney champs—Despite losing a pair of all-America performers from last year’s squad, the Dutch have posted their fifth consecutive 30-win season and their 23rd overall. Central won its first conference tournament title since the tourney was re-established in 2006 after a 21-year hiatus. The Dutch also won the 1985 crown. Central became the first team to come through the loser’s bracket to claim the title, topping No. 4 Luther 3-0 and No. 19 Coe 7-5 and 2-1 (8 innings) Saturday. Central rallied from a 5-1 sixth-inning deficit in Saturday’s first meeting with Coe, winning the game on a walk-off grand slam by shortstop Annie Sarcone (sophomore, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS).
Record watch--Sarcone has tied the school season home runs record of nine set by Kelly Harris in 2008 and her 46 RBIs are the second-most in a season. She’s hitting a team-high .395. Freshman designated player Abbey Strajack (Davenport, Assumption HS), who had a walk-off single in the eighth inning of the conference tourney championship game Saturday, is batting .376 and has a team-high 37 runs. She has 50 hits, three shy of the school freshman season record of 53 set by Alysha Overturf in 2006. Catcher Kyrie Hale (senior, Lee’s Summit, Mo., West HS) has 16 doubles, one away from the school mark of 17 set by Tina Shimak in 2004. Right fielder Emily Te Brink (junior, Le Mars) is the top base stealer with 20, as the Dutch lead opponents in stolen bases, 120-17.
Senior second baseman Angela Davis (West Des Moines, Valley HS), a four-year starter, has tied the career triples record of 16 set by Shannon Merkle (1992-95) and has moved into a tie for third on the career hits list with 188.
Central’s three pitchers have divided the work load and combined to post a 1.61 earned run average. Rhianna Fleetwood (junior, Sycamore, Ill.) has a 16-2 mark with a 1.11 ERA. She was named the Iowa Conference Athlete of the Week after throwing 21 straight scoreless innings in the league tourney. Freshman Mallory Schulenberg (Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) is 9-0 and Brie Haycraft (sophomore, Eldridge, North Scott HS) is 10-6. None has thrown more than 120 innings.
Previous meetings—Conference opponents Luther and Coe are the only teams in the regional Central has met this year. Luther swept the Dutch at Decorah March 31, 4-2 and 5-4, before Central’s win at Decorah Saturday. Central and Coe have played five times. Central won a pair in Cedar Rapids April 4, 9-6 and 5-2. Coe prevailed at Decorah Friday, 3-2, before Central got Saturday’s two wins.
Winningest coach—Central’s George Wares is the winningest coach in Division III softball history. A member of the NFCA Hall of Fame, Wares has compiled a 944-311-3 (.751) record over 28 seasons.
Associate head coach Alicia O’Brien is in her sixth year at Central after 17 highly successful seasons as head coach at Western Connecticut State University. She has an overall record of 614-281-3 (.685) and is making her 12th NCAA appearance.
First-round foe—Wis.-River Falls won the WIAC tournament title for the second straight year Sunday. The Falcons came through the loser’s bracket with three wins in one day, edging Wis.-Eau Claire with a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, 4-3, then sweeping No. 21 Wis.-Whitewater 4-1 and 8-4.
Senior pitcher Rose Tusa has logged 199 innings, including 36.1 innings in three days at the conference tourney, posting a 23-6 record with 225 strikeouts and a 1.62 earned run average. Junior center fielder Amanda Ryder is hitting .435 with three home runs, including two in the conference tournament, while junior first baseman Ashley Goettl is batting .392 with a team-high 12 homers and 46 RBIs.
Wis.-River Falls is making its third NCAA appearance and its second in a row, winning two games in last year’s tourney, and Wares said the Falcons are a talented team from a competitive league.
“Tusa is a big-time strikeout pitcher,” Wares said. “You’ve got to give her a lot of credit for what she did in the conference tournament.
“They’ve got some tournament experience from last year. They’ve played some real good teams and a pretty solid schedule.”
Central hasn’t met Wis.-River Falls since 2009 and holds a 5-1 advantage in the teams’ all-time series. The Dutch hold advantages of 24-15 over Coe, 44-28 over Luther, 12-8 over St. Thomas and 3-0 over St. Scholastica.
NCAA Division III Pella, Iowa softball regional
at A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex softball field
Friday, May 11
10 a.m.--Game1:#1 Luther (36-6) vs. No. 6 St. Scholastica (Minn.) (32-10)
Noon--Game 2: #2 Central (35-8) vs. No. 5 Wis.-River Falls (30-13)
2 p.m.--Game 3: #3 St. Thomas (Minn.) (37-7) vs. No. 4 Coe (34-11)
4 p.m.--Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser
Saturday, May 12
10 a.m.--Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 3 loser
Noon --Game 6: Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner
*2 p.m.--Game 7: TBD
*4 p.m.--Game 8: TBD
Sunday, May 13
*Noon--Game 9: TBD
**2 p.m.--Game 10: TBD
**Game 11, if necessary, TBD
*pairings depend on whether four or five teams remain after Game 6
**pairings depend on whether two or three teams remain after Game 9
NCAA Division III tournament history
Team Yrs.* W L Pct.
Central 24 83 45 .648
St. Thomas (Minn.) 20 52 35 .598
Luther 13 26 26 .500
Coe 12 36 24 .600
Wis.-River Falls 4 3 6 .333
St. Scholastica (Minn.) 3 2 4 .333