Four NCAA Div. III championships
CEDAR RAPIDS—After battling for 5.5 hours, the No. 19 Central College softball team and No. 13 Coe College finished Sunday where they started, tied for first place in the Iowa Conference after a wild doubleheader split.
The Dutch scratched out a dramatic 5-3, 10-inning victory in the opener, then launched a school-record five home runs in the nightcap, only to have a furious seventh-inning rally fizzle in a 7-5 loss.
That leaves Central and Coe tied for first in the league at 10-2 with one conference doubleheader remaining. But the Dutch must face No. 9 Luther College at Pella Saturday while Coe takes on the University of Dubuque.
Central, 26-7 overall, rallied after almost seeing the first game slip away. The Dutch, who’ve had an unhealthy habit of yielding seventh-inning home runs, surrendered one with a 3-2 lead, forcing extra innings. And Central, after scoring three runs in the first two innings, was held hitless for six innings by reliever Mackenzie Laux. But with one out in the 10th, third baseman Whitney Sowers (sophomore, Marshalltown) ignited the offense with a surprise bunt single. She moved to second on an error before scoring the go-ahead run on a base hit by designated player Karlee Rock (sophomore, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS). One out later, Rhianna Fleetwood (senior, Sycamore, Ill.) came off the bench to deliver another RBI hit for a 5-3 lead.
“The bunt by Whitney was huge,” coach George Wares said. “She did that on her own and it was the right call. They were playing her deep and you couldn’t have placed it any better than she did. She’s a very smart hitter and that proved to be a catalyst for the whole inning.
“The hit by Karlee was big and the hit by Rhianna may have been even bigger because it was important to have that insurance run.”
The Dutch had broken on top in the first inning on a pair of unearned runs and first baseman Katie Canney (sophomore, Adel, ADM HS) blasted a solo home run in the second.
Pitcher Mallory Schulenberg (sophomore, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) pitched the first 6.2 innings, then returned in the 10th inning with the tying runs aboard to pick up a save while Kelsey Stender (freshman, Belle Plaine, Minn.) got the win with 2.1 innings of hitless relief, walking one while striking out three. Schulenberg threw 7.2 innings, allowing three runs on nine hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. Coe (28-4) outhit Central, 9-8.
“The game was a roller-coaster of emotion,” Wares said. “For Mallory (Schulenberg), after giving up the home run in the seventh, to come back in a really tough spot in the 10th and close it out is impressive.”
Stender started the second game but was relieved in the first inning by Brie Haycraft (junior, Eldridge, North Scott HS), who threw one hitless inning. Fleetwood followed, throwing the final 4.2 innings, giving up two earned runs on four hits with one walk and no strikeouts. Stender (9-4) was charged with the loss.
Coe jumped on top with a two-run homer in the first and a three-run shot in the second for a 5-0 lead. But Central didn’t go away quietly. Canney belted her second homer of the day and fifth of the season in the third. Rock hit her third of the year in the fourth.
Coe added unearned runs in the fourth and fifth innings to put the game seemingly out of reach at 7-2. Those tallies proved costly, as the Dutch offense wasn’t done. Meyer rocketed her team-high sixth homer of the year in the sixth inning, far over the right-center field fence to make it 7-3.
That remained the score with two outs in the seventh, but Central still wasn’t finished. Sowers lined her second homer of the year, just over the fence, and three pitches later shortstop Annie Sarcone (junior, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) ripped her second. Then Rock spoiled several good pitches before singling sharply to left to extend the rally and Meyer walked to put the potential tying run on at first before Coe’s third pitcher of the game entered and coaxed the final out.
The Dutch outhit Coe 11-6, but committed four errors. While the five homers are the most in Central history, all came with the bases empty.
“When they’ve got you down 5-0, I think a lot of teams would have gotten run-ruled,” Wares said. “But as we said to the players afterwards, if we’d just do a few of the little things better, that would have kept us closer and given us a better chance at the end. We had a stretch where we walked too many and made too many errors. In some ways, it was amazing we were still in the game.
“One thing this team has shown, though, is the ability to keep battling. I don’t think we’re ever out of a game.”
After four road games in two days, Wares is grateful to have five days to prepare for defending league champion Luther and possibly even have some outdoor practices, a precious commodity in a weather-hampered spring.
“This was a tough stretch and it’s good to be able to come away winning three of four,” he said. “Now we have time to heal physically and maybe get outdoors to take care of some little things we need to work on.”