Four NCAA Div. III championships
TUCSON, ARIZ.— Monday looked like it might be the toughest day on the Central College softball team’s 16-game spring break schedule.
It was. The previously unbeaten Dutch tumbled twice, dropping a 6-2 contest to Wis.-La Crosse before Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Calif.) gained a hard-fought 2-1 decision in the nightcap.
That leaves Central with a 6-2 record, but a better feel for the capabilities of this year’s squad.
“It’s hard to feel good about two losses, but we’ll take what we can away from it,” Wares said. “Both games, and in particular the second game, gave us way more in terms of determining things we’re doing well and not doing well than our first six games.”
The day took a nasty turn from the start as Wis.-La Crosse struck for five unearned runs in the top of the first inning, quickly ending Central’s 34-inning shutout streak. The Eagles added a run in the third for a 6-0 lead. Central did put together a few threats, but couldn’t convert, particularly in the sixth inning when the Dutch ran themselves out of a potentially big frame. A lead-off double in the third inning by first baseman Kaitlyn Matzen (junior, Manly, Central Springs HS) led to a run. Third baseman Whitney Sowers (junior, Marshalltown) singled and scored in the sixth, but the Dutch were hoping for more after getting four hits from the first five batters of the inning.
But the biggest story from an otherwise dismal effort was the relief pitching performance of sophomore Trisha Smith (New Hampton). Smith, who made her varsity debut Friday and went on to receive Iowa Conference pitcher of the week honors, came on in relief of Brie Haycraft (senior, Eldridge, North Scott HS) and threw shutout ball over 4.2 innings. She scattered two hits with no walks and four strikeouts. Haycraft (2-1) was tagged for six runs on six hits over the first 2.1 innings, walking two and striking out one.
“Trish threw pretty well,” Wares said. “She had good command. Her rise was working and her change-up is improving. It looks like she can give us some really good innings this year. And Brie will come back and give us good innings as well.”
Sowers, second baseman Abbey Strajack (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS) and designated player Karlee Rock (junior, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS) each had two hits. Both teams had eight hits in the game, but Central committed three errors.
Wares felt better about his team’s showing against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. The Athenas are 8-6 but have played a demanding schedule. All-America pitcher Hayley Schultz gave Central’s hitters their stiffest test thus far, limiting the Dutch to five hits. Mallory Schulenberg (junior, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS), now 2-1, yielded eight hits in six innings in absorbing the loss. CMS broke on top in the first inning on a single, sacrifice, force play and wild pitch, then added a run in the third.
Central loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning but could bring home just a run.
“Right before that inning, we challenged the players quite a bit about raising their intensity level,” Wares said. “I thought a lot of the players stepped up to the challenge and, really, from that point on played with a higher intensity level the rest of the game. We needed to have a game like that.”
Sowers again had two hits. Wares also cited the defensive showing of Katie Canney (junior, Adel, ADM HS), who is making the transition from first base last year to starting catcher. Canney threw out a would-be base stealer to end a fourth-inning uprising.
“Katie Canney was very good,” he said. “That was encouraging. On that base-stealing attempt, that wasn’t a pitch-out or a planned throw but she was able to throw out the baserunner. That was a big-time play.”
Central gets an off day Tuesday at the trip’s midpoint, before playing eight games in the following four days. The Dutch come right back against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Wednesday at 11 a.m. (Pacific DaylightTime), then take on Augsburg (Minn.) at 1:30 p.m.
“Coming back Wednesday we’ll have nothing easy,” Wares said. “But the players know we weren’t that far off today. We’re not going to panic. We’ve been through this kind of stuff before. Hopefully we can turn it around and start a new winning streak.”