Four NCAA Div. III championships
OSKALOOSA— It took nine innings but first baseman Katie Canney (sophomore, Adel, ADM HS) delivered a walk-off home run to allow the Central College softball team to finally overcome St. Scholastica (Minn.) 4-3 Friday, before the Dutch completed the sweep with an 11-0, five-inning rout.
The Dutch (15-5) twice had to come from behind before taking their only lead on Canney’s one-out shot to right-center field in the ninth, her second homer in the past two games.
St. Scholastica (6-8) was primed for an upset, getting a pair of unearned runs on two hits and an error in the third inning. Central opened the fourth inning with four straight hits to tie it as shortstop Annie Sarcone (junior, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) singled home a run and third baseman Whitney Sowers (sophomore, Marshalltown) scored all the way from second when a bunt single by designated player Karlee Rock (sophomore, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS) got past a hard-charging shortstop. But after tying the game, the Dutch still had the bases loaded and no outs, yet failed to take the lead.
St. Scholastica got another unearned tally on two hits and an error in the fifth, but Sarcone’s RBI single in the bottom of the inning evened the score again.
“Give St. Scholastica credit,” coach George Wares said. “I thought their pitcher (Darcy Roach) threw really well against us. We really got nothing off her the first time through the lineup. And when you give a team extra outs like we did, it’s going to lead to something not very good. When they got ahead 2-0, you sensed they believed they could win.”
Mallory Schulenberg (sophomore, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) was slated to throw the second game but instead entered the game in the seventh inning to get the win, raising her record to 7-1. She allowed one hit and walked two –one intentionally—while striking out one. Kelsey Stender (freshman, Belle Plaine, Minn.) threw the first 4.2 innings, giving up three unearned runs on four hits with two walks and eight strikeouts. Brie Haycraft (junior, Eldridge, North Scott HS) gave the Dutch a lift with 1.1 innings of hitless ball. She fanned one batter.
There was little suspense in the nightcap. Central jumped on top with three first-inning runs, then settled the issue with an eight-run second-inning uprising, highlighted by a grand slam by pitcher Rhianna Fleetwood (senior, Sycamore, Ill.). It was the first collegiate homer for Fleetwood, who was back in action for the first time in nearly three weeks. She was struck by a line drive in the season opener March 8 and had only pitched two innings since. A first-team all-Iowa Conference honoree last year, Fleetwood (1-0) got her first 2013 victory by throwing three innings of shutout ball. She gave up one hit with no walks.
“She’s getting there,” Wares said of her comeback bid. “She was pretty solid and her velocity was decent. But more important than how I think she did is how she feels. And I actually think the home run, even though it has no connection to pitching, may have helped her confidence. She could feel like she’s contributing again.”
Haycraft allowed one hit in an inning of relief and freshman Courtney Meyer (Newton) retired the side in order to end the game in the fifth, striking out two of the three batters she faced.
“I thought all of our pitchers gave us strong contributions,” Wares said. “As well as our freshman and sophomore pitchers are throwing, we want our upperclassmen to come back and pitch like they’re capable of as well. That will make us that much tougher.”
Sowers and second baseman Abbey Strajack (sophomore, Davenport, Assumption HS) each had two hits and two RBI in the contest as Central outhit the Saints, 9-2.
Central was errorless in the nightcap after three first-game miscues.
“We made some very good plays but there were a couple of plays we didn’t make,” Wares said. “We didn’t adjust very well to the slower infield. We’re a little inconsistent but not far off from where we need to be. I still think pitching and defense will be what carries us.”
Central is braced for yet another challenging day Saturday, taking on NCAA Division III playoff contenders Wis.-Eau Claire and Gustavus Adolphus (Minn.) at 9 and 11 a.m., respectively. The games were moved up because of the threat of midday rain showers. Wis.-Eau Claire is 12-2 after suffering a 4-1 loss at Simpson Friday while Gustavus Adolphus (Minn.), which competed in the NFCA Division III Leadoff Classic along with Central in Columbus, Ga. March 8-10, fell to Simpson 3-2 Friday and is 3-7, a mark Wares thinks is misleading.
“It’ll be a tough day,” he said. “Both teams will be very competitive. These are obviously significant games for us. It’s a chance to enhance our regional record.”
Live stats will be available for both games on the Central athletics website at www.central.edu/athletics while an audio webstream with play-by-play from Trevor Castle can be accessed at www.kniakrls.com. It will also air on a tape-delayed basis at 2 p.m. on KRLS-FM (92.1).