Four NCAA Div. III championships
COLUMBUS, GA.— It only took one inning for the Central College softball team to turn what was shaping up to be a miserable opening day into a respectable split against two ranked opponents in the NFCA Division III Leadoff Classic Friday.
The No. 10-rated Dutch (1-1) allowed an unearned tally in the ninth inning and stranded nine baserunners in stumbling against No. 25 East Texas Baptist, 3-2. They then found themselves trailing 3-0 against No. 19 Ohio Northern (0-2). It didn't look like that would change when Central came up scoreless in the fourth inning after loading the bases with no outs. But the Dutch promptly loaded the bases again in the fifth and got a clutch 2-run pinch-hit single from freshman Courtney Meyer (Newton) en route to a 4-run outburst that carried them to a 4-3 triumph.
Central completes pool play in the elite 24-team tourney Saturday at 10 a.m. (Eastern Time) against Piedmont College (Ga.). The Lady Lions were 9-0 heading into a Friday evening game with East Texas Baptist after subduing Ohio Northern 3-1.
The Dutch committed three errors as well as some mental miscues against East Texas Baptist (9-0), yet were still in position for an extra-innings win after outhitting the Tigers 7-5. The international tiebreaker rule is in effect for the tourney, dictating that each team started each extra inning with a baserunner on second base. After a scoreless eighth, East Texas Baptist won it in the ninth when the Tigers’ Kelsey DeCarolis collided with Central first baseman Katie Canney (sophomore, Adel, ADM HS) following a sacrifice bunt attempt, jarring the ball loose and allowing the runner to scramble home from second base.
Third baseman Whitney Sowers (sophomore, Marshalltown), coming off an impressive freshman campaign, opened 2013 in stride with two singles and a double in her first three at-bats. Hits by Sowers, second baseman Abbey Strajack (sophomore, Davenport, Assumption HS), catcher Caitlyn Meyer (senior, Newton), designated player Karlee Rock (sophomore, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS) and Canney led to two Dutch runs in the fourth inning for a 2-1 lead, but East Texas Baptist tied it in the bottom of the frame.
Ohio Northern struck for a run in the second inning and two in the fourth. And with four more Central errors in the game, things could have quickly spiraled downward. Instead, the Dutch fought back, getting five hits in a four-run fifth inning. Sowers and shortstop Annie Sarcone (sophomore, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) joined Meyer in delivering run-scoring hits. Central only had two hits the rest of the game but still outhit the Polar Bears, 7-6. Strajack had two hits and scored a run.
“We were not sure exactly what to expect today but we probably got what we should have,” coach George Wares said. “We easily could have won two but we could have lost two just as easily. It was a tough opening day but if you look at who we played and to lose, then be down 3-0 and still find a way to win is pretty big. Being 0-2 would feel a lot different than 1-1.”
The Dutch entered the season thinking they had a deep pitching staff and showed it Friday as four hurlers saw action and each saw some success. Yet it was the rookie in the group, freshman Kelsey Stender (Belle Plaine, Minn.) who got both decisions pitching in relief and flashed great promise. Stender made her collegiate debut in the unlikeliest of situations, entering the opener with one out and two runners on in the bottom of the eighth and the game on the line. She promptly set down the next two hitters to end the threat, before suffering the hard-luck loss in the ninth.
“Kelsey and I had about a 30-second conversation before she went in,” Wares said. “She wanted to pitch but she also knew how big of a spot it was for the team. For her to come in and get us out of that jam is pretty impressive.”
Stender got the win in the nightcap with three innings of shutout ball. She allowed two hits with no walks while striking out four.
Senior Rhianna Fleetwood (Sycamore, Ill.) allowed a run on one hit in 2.2 innings in the opener, while sophomore Mallory Schulenberg (Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) threw 4.2 innings, giving up a run on four hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Junior Brie Haycraft (Eldridge, North Scott HS) yielded three runs on four hits and a walk in four innings against Ohio Northern, fanning one.
“I thought our pitchers were pretty solid,” Wares said. “Mallory (Schulenberg) pitched extremely well against East Texas Baptist. She got behind on the count too much but she came back and got some really big outs.”
After Saturday morning’s game, teams are placed into the Gold, Silver or Bronze tournament brackets for three more games, starting Saturday evening and concluding with two games Sunday.
Piedmont presents another early challenge.
“The pitcher we saw throwing for them today is the best we’ve seen so far,” Wares said. “They had a very impressive early-season sweep against Berry (Ga.). This will be a tough one for us, but that’s why we’re here. You can’t hide a whole lot and we had some things exposed today. We’ll evaluate when we get back home, but we’ll have a lot to work on in practice.
“But after today, I’m way more optimistic than pessimistic about this team.”
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