Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — After managing just two hits in a hard-fought 1-0 opening-round victory Thursday, the Central College softball team was quick out of the blocks Friday in racing past Fontbonne University (Mo.) 3-1 in the NCAA Division III Pella Regional.
The Dutch (30-8) reached the 30-win mark for the 24th time and advance to take on the top seed, the University of St. Thomas (Minn.), in a winner’s bracket game Saturday at 2 p.m. at the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex field. St. Thomas (40-5) was dominant in a 5-0 win over Washington-St. Louis (Mo.) Friday. Play in the eight-team, double-elimination regional continues Sunday.
Central came out swinging in the top of the first. Right fielder Emily Te Brink (senior, Le Mars) lined a double to left field, then stole third before scoring on a single up the middle by third baseman Whitney Sowers (sophomore, Marshalltown). Sowers then pilfered second and raced home on a single by shortstop Annie Sarcone (junior, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS).
“We made the commitment to be aggressive,” coach George Wares said. “We had a couple of steals and hit and runs that we executed pretty well. We felt we had to come out and make something happen in the first inning and, fortunately, we did.”
That proved critical because Fontbonne was hammering the ball in the first inning. All five Fontbonne batters made solid contact, but the Dutch defense came up big. Catcher Caitlyn Meyer (senior, Newton) cut down a would-be base stealer and Sarcone gloved a shot to short and threw out a runner trying to advance from second base to third. That helped limit the damage to one run.
“(Fontbonne) probably hit the ball as hard as anyone we’ve faced all year,” Wares said. “It was fortunate we got a great defensive play by Annie, otherwise it might have been a big inning.”
But after giving up three hits in the first inning, pitcher Mallory Schulenberg (sophomore, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) limited Fontbonne (34-11) to just two hits the rest of the way. She walked one and struck out six in improving to 13-2.
“We just had to make some adjustments,” Wares said. “We switched some locations a little bit and once she got a little more in rhythm and in command, her off-speed was a lot more effective.”
Sarcone added some cushion with a solo home run to left field, her third of the year and the Dutch were able to quiet the only other Fontbonne uprising, which came in the fifth. The Griffins’ Emily Smith got a one-out double to left and one out later, Sarah Cerutti rocketed a ball deep to right. The speedy Te Brink, who said she didn’t get a good initial read on the ball, sprinted to the fence and ran it down.
“That was huge,” Wares said. “When it left the bat, I thought it had a chance to get out but the wind held it up a little bit. That was not an easy catch.
“Our defense made some big plays. And Chelsea Greiner (junior, Agency, Cardinal HS) stayed consistent at second base. She just makes plays.”
The bats of St. Thomas present an imposing challenge but the Tommies are also dominant in the circle. Pitcher Kendra Bowe (18-3) limited Washington-St. Louis to two hits.
“They’re solid,” Wares said. “They’re well-coached and do not beat themselves. They not only hit the ball well but they’re very good in the short game.
“As always for us, it comes down to pitching and defense, and not giving up the big inning.”
It’s the first time since 2004 that Central has won its first two NCAA tournament games.