Four NCAA Div. III championships
TUCSON, ARIZ.—Central College used a 15-hit, 12-run assault to cap its 16-game, nine-day trek through the Tucson Invitational Games softball trip Saturday.
The Dutch (12-4) suffered an unusually rocky start early Saturday morning in dropping a disappointing 3-2 decision to Gustavus Adolphus (Minn.) before racking up eight first-inning runs in a 12-2 romp past St. Olaf (Minn.).
“To go 12-4, while we would like to have done a little better, it’s certainly not bad on a trip like this,” coach George Wares.
While Gustavus Adolphus is again expected to have an NCAA Division III tourney contender, Central’s performance was clearly one of the team’s most subpar efforts of the trip, particularly in the first two innings. The Dutch committed four errors in those pivotal frames, giving up three runs on just two hits. Meanwhile the Central offense had four hits in those two innings but came up scoreless.
Mallory Schulenberg (junior, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius IX HS) took the hard-luck loss. Schulenberg (4-3) gave up the three runs on two hits before leaving after 1.1 innings. She had three strikeouts in that brief span, with no walks.
“We’ve always said that teams lose more often than other teams win and this was a classic example,” Wares said, noting that Central is often the beneficiary of opponents’ mistakes as well. “I don’t want to take anything away from Gustavus, because they’re a very good team. But fatigue caught up with us. We had two emotional wins yesterday and we just didn’t come out ready. Mallory struggled a little bit but she pitched well enough to get out of trouble if it weren’t for some uncharacteristic errors.”
But there was still much to feel good about. Sophomore Trish Smith (New Hampton), by far the most pleasant surprise of the trip, entered and shut down the Gusties, allowing just one hit over the final 4.2 innings, with no walks and three strikeouts. Remarkably, that showing came after shouldering a 10-inning, 123-pitch performance in a win over Chapman (Calif.) Friday.
“I’ve been really reserved about saying it to this point, but Trish, you’ve got to say now, has become beyond just being a good pitcher,” Wares said. “She looks like she’s done this forever. She doesn’t show any signs of stress out there.
“And Mallory is going to be back. We’re going to have a very good one-two combination, with a lot of help from Brie Haycraft (senior, Eldridge, North Scott HS) along the way.”
Meanwhile the Dutch offense sprung to life with two outs in the seventh inning. Central’s only other run came on a third-inning home run by third baseman Whitney Sowers (junior, Marshalltown), her third of the young season. But in the seventh, pinch-hitter Abbie Voas (freshman, Chanhassen, Minn.) walked and Abbey Strajack (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS) doubled and raced to third when the throw back to the infield sailed wide of the mark, sending Voas home. But with the potential tying run 60 feet away, the Dutch were retired.
Central outhit Gustavus Adolphus 8-3. Sowers, designated player Karlee Rock (junior, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS) and left fielder Jordan Overland (senior, Boone) each had two hits.
The suspense ended early against St. Olaf (0-3), which was playing its first outdoor game of the season. Central sent 14 batters to the plate in the top of the first inning and scored eight runs. Strajack had a single and a double in the frame, scoring twice and driving home two runs. She had three hits in the game while Sowers had two. First baseman Kaitlyn Matzen (junior, Manly, Central Springs HS) had a two-run single and walked twice.
Haycraft raised her record to 4-1, allowing a run on two hits with no walks and no strikeouts. Schulenberg tossed the final two innings, giving up a run on two hits with no walks and three strikeouts.
Wares said many of the team’s preseason questions were answered.
“We didn’t know how we’d be behind the plate but we found we’ve got two catchers (Katie Canney, junior, Adel, ADM HS and Dana Van Renterghem, junior, Oskaloosa) who are more than adequate defensively. We wondered what we could get from Trisha Smith. We had high hopes for her and she went beyond our expectations. We found that we’ve got three freshmen who are all solid in different ways (Voas, Felicia Schulty, Wellman, Mid-Prairie HS and Sarah Bowen, New Sharon, North Mahaska HS). They’ll each contribute and already have. We expected our infield to be good and it was. And I thought our outfield got better the last few days. Paige Heesch (junior, Titonka, WCLT HS) got more comfortable in center field and Jordan Overland was very good in left field the whole time.”
The Dutch fly home Sunday and have a welcome day off Monday as well. Then they hope to take advantage of an expanded home schedule, which could see Central play more games at the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex field than ever before. The Dutch are slated to play host to some traditional NCAA tourney contenders, meeting Wis.-Eau Claire for a doubleheader Friday at 2 p.m. before taking on Washington-St. Louis (Mo.) at 1 p.m. Saturday with a 3 p.m. contest against St. Scholastica. Central tackles Augsburg (Minn.) in a Sunday doubleheader at 1 p.m. The Dutch were 11-0 winners over Augsburg in Tucson Wednesday.
“It could be a real fun weekend,” Wares said. “Hopefully the weather lets us play. It would be nice for the players and nice for the fans.”