Four NCAA Div. III championships
EAU CLAIRE, WIS.— Montclair State University’s (N.J.) Alex Hill lived up to her billing as a first-team all-America pitcher, but delivered some power at the plate as well, driving in four runs to lift the Red Hawks past the Central College softball team 4-1 in the opening round of the NCAA Division III finals Friday evening.
Hill’s third-inning three-run homer was the difference as No. 3-ranked Montclair State (46-3) advances to take on No. 7 Tufts University (Mass.) (43-3) Saturday at 6:30 p.m. Central (32-9) must play an elimination game at 1:30 p.m. with explosive No. 5-rated Texas-Tyler (44-5). Tufts surprised the Patriots 6-0 Friday afternoon.
With one out in the third, Montclair State got a single and a sacrifice to put a runner at second base. Coach George Wares elected to intentionally walk the Red Hawks’ leading hitter, third baseman Dana Amato, who has six homers. But unfortunately, Hill then lined a 2-1 pitch just inside the left-field foul pole for her second homer of the season and a 3-0 lead against Dutch hurler Mallory Schulenberg (sophomore, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS).
“I actually thought Mallory made a good pitch on the off-speed that Hill hit out,” Wares said. “We would do that again—with the intentional walk to get to her--but give (Hill) credit, she did a good job with the pitch.”
However, Central, after three quiet offensive innings, immediately showed some life. Designated player Abbey Strajack (sophomore, Davenport, Assumption HS) lined a single to left field and right fielder Emily Te Brink (senior, Le Mars) followed with an infield hit. One out later, the Red Hawks misplayed a grounder to second by shortstop Annie Sarcone (junior, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS). Strajack raced home and the other runners advanced to second and third but then the rally stalled.
“I was happy with the way our team came back the next inning (following the home run),” Wares said. “We had a shot to do more but couldn’t get the key base hit.”
Montclair State then picked up an unearned tally in the fifth following a leadoff error. Central had just one hit the rest of the way—a seventh-inning single by catcher Caitlyn Meyer (senior, Newton)--and finished with three hits while striking out eight times against Hill (38-3), who had no walks.
“I thought we had some good at-bats against her,” Wares said. “I wasn’t as disappointed in our offense --which sounds crazy when you have so few baserunners—as I was in our defense. I thought that let us down. If we hold it to 1-0 or 1-1, I think we have an opportunity to do something with our speed. But you get down three runs, it changes the complexion of the game.”
Schulenberg (16-3) was charged with three runs on four hits with three walks and three strikeouts in 2.2 innings. Kelsey Stender (freshman, Belle Plaine, Minn.) gave up a hit and the unearned run in 1.1 innings, recording a strikeout and Brie Haycraft (junior, Eldridge, North Scott HS) tossed the final two innings, yielding a hit and two walks with two strikeouts.
Texas-Tyler isn’t an ideal bounceback opponent. The Patriots have crushed 41 home runs and have a .359 team batting average. Pitcher Kelsie Batten is 23-1 with a 1.23 earned run average while Heather Abshire is 20-2 with a 1.63 ERA.
“The tough thing is to take those bats out of it and make sure they don’t have a big inning,” Wares said. “You have to pitch, play defense, and, obviously what we have to do better than today is get some baserunners and manufacture some offense.”
It’s a long road back but Wares said his focus is on Saturday rather than the tournament.
“You don’t really think about it,” he said. “You just say the next pitch is the most important one and we’ll battle back, we have all year.”
The voice of the Dutch, Trevor Castle, will call the action on KRLS-FM radio (92.1) and can also be heard via www.kniakrls.com. A live video webcast with play-by-play and live stats can be accessed at www.ncaa.com. Twitter updates will be at @CentralDutch.
Central shows up big in the stands—The Dutch had the largest fan following of any of the eight tournament teams and even had three Central presidents in attendance. President emeritus Ken Weller (1969-90), one of the squad’s most ardent supporters, was behind home plate as usual, but Friday was joined by current president Mark Putnam, who made the six-hour drive from Pella, as well as former president David Roe, who served from 1998-2010. Roe, who now lives in Dallas, had visited with Wares and associate head coach Alicia O’Brien when the NCAA Convention was held there in January and promised that if the Dutch made it to the national tournament, he would be there as well.