Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — There were few hits but lots of drama as the Central College softball team got the better end of a tense pitchers’ duel with a 1-0, eight-inning walk-off victory over Cornell College in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Pella Regional tourney Thursday.
Dutch first baseman Katie Canney (sophomore, Adel, ADM HS) powered a two-out hit over the right fielder’s glove as Heidi Reburn (senior, New Albin, Kee HS) sprinted home from third with the winning run. It was only the third hit of the game for the two teams.
That let second-seeded Central (29-8) advance to a 4 p.m. Friday match-up with third-seeded Fontbonne University (Mo.). The Griffins (34-10) were 5-2 winners over fourth-seeded Augustana College (Ill.) Thursday in the double-elimination tourney.
But it was Cornell (23-15) that appeared to be on the brink of victory in the seventh inning. The Rams had missed a scoring chance in the sixth inning with a runner on third base and only one out. Relief pitcher Mallory Schulenberg (sophomore, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) worked out of the jam only to find herself in another one in the seventh. Cornell put runners on with a hit and a walk when the skies opened up and Schulenberg threw a wild pitch, letting runners reach second and third with one out. The game was called and after a 10-minute rain delay, the Dutch intentionally walked the next batter to load the bases and set up a force play at home. Then third baseman Whitney Sowers (sophomore, Marshalltown) fired an off-balance throw home on a slow roller to get the second out. As the rains resumed, Schulenberg faced a 3-1 count before getting a pair of huge strikes to end the inning.
“To be honest, it was probably good we had time to think about it during the delay,” coach George Wares said. “We were able to talk about some things and we clearly were going to walk the next batter to load the bases. Then the play by Whitney Sowers—it maybe looked routine but that was a great play, going to her left and then the throw home. And then the strikeout was phenomenal. (On the 3-2 pitch) I told (catcher) Caitlyn (Meyer) to just go ask her what she wanted to throw and throw it. That was huge. We walk the hitter there and we probably don’t win the game.”
Another rain delay followed before Reburn was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the eighth. She moved to second on a one-out sacrifice and stole third before Canney delivered the winner to right field.
“Katie came up really big,” Wares said. “It was close to going out but it didn’t have to go out with Heidi on third.”
It was only Central’s second hit of the day as Cornell ace Jackie Sernek (13-4) had a masterful performance, striking out four and walking one.
“She was really good,” Wares said. “She had good velocity, good movement. We knew she struck out 10 against Coe, so that impresses you. I didn’t realize until the end that we only struck out four times but Cornell made a lot of good defensive plays. We just never had a threat.”
Central’s pitchers matched her, but had to work around three Dutch errors. Freshman Kelsey Stender (Belle Plaine, Minn.) carried a no-hitter into the seventh and allowed one overall. She struck out six and walked none before being lifted. Schulenberg (13-2) threw two hitless innings, walking two—one intentionally—and striking out three.
“We obviously got ourselves in a couple of tough situations but our pitchers won the game for us because they kept us in the game,” Wares said. “Kelsey pitched really well. And Mallory came in and did a great job.”
Central’s only other hit of the game came in the second inning when catcher Caitlyn Meyer (senior, Newton) punched a two-out change-up into left field.
Wares anticipates another intense contest with Fontbonne.
“From top to bottom they’re a threat,” he said. “They’ve got some speed and some power. So it’s a tough match-up for us. But it’s pretty refreshing to win that first one. You lose that and it’s really tough. I’m not a big momentum person but I’ll use that word and say that I hope our momentum will carry over for us tomorrow.”