Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — Battling an unexpectedly rough start, the Central College softball team found an unexpected power source and averted an Augsburg College (Minn.) upset bid Sunday, sparked by a pinch-hit grand slam by freshman Abbie Voas (Chanhassen, Minn.).
The No. 12 Dutch (16-4) went on to a 7-5 escape and then completed the sweep with a 7-2 victory in the nightcap. Central had dominated Augsburg (3-15) 11-0 in five innings in Tucson, Ariz. March 19. Coach George Wares warned his players that Sunday’s games would not go as smoothly and proved prophetic. Central committed some costly early defensive mistakes and Augsburg took a surprising 4-0 lead heading into the bottom of the second inning.
But the Dutch loaded the bases with one out when Wares called on Voas to pinch-hit and she launched her first collegiate home run, to left-center field to tie the score 4-4. It was just the second hit of her young career but Wares said he likes the potential the rookie shows.
“That was a big home run for her,” Wares said. “It was the first of what I hope will be many for her during her career.”
Second baseman Abbey Strajack (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS) singled and scored later in the frame for a 5-4 lead, but Augsburg tied it off senior pitcher Brie Haycraft (Eldridge, North Scott HS) in the third inning.
That prompted a relief appearance by sophomore Trisha Smith (New Hampton), who held the Auggies scoreless over the final 4.2 innings, allowing two hits and a walk with seven strikeouts in improving to 6-0.
Central got the winning runs in the sixth inning on a two-run double by senior shortstop Annie Sarcone (Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS). Central’s career RBI record-holder with 149, Sarcone has driven in 28 runs in 20 games. She has climbed into ninth on the school career hits list with 160.
The rally didn’t mask Wares’ disappointment in the overall performance. While Haycraft was charged with all five runs over 2.1 innings, he said her pitching was not the issue.
“We put her in a pretty tough spot,” Wares said. “We had a letdown behind her and the next thing you know, we’re down 4-0. I want to give Augsburg some credit for that, but it was the worst we’ve played all season. We were fortunate to come back and get a win out of it.”
Strajack had three hits in the game and third baseman Whitney Sowers (junior, Marshalltown) had two. Sowers is hitting a team-high .547 with Sarcone at .448 and Strajack at .443.
“Abby is as good as any leadoff hitter in the country,” Wares said. “And the fact that Jordan (Overland) (senior, Boone) is a lot more consistent this year behind her gives us a pretty tough one-two. And then we’ve got Whitney (Sowers) and Annie (Sarcone) and on down the line. But we want to make sure the players grasp that for us to be successful in the Iowa Conference and in the postseason, we’ve going to have to win a lot of games 2-1, not 7-5. I think they understand that.”
Mallory Schulenberg (junior, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) pitched out of some early trouble and got the win in the nightcap. Schulenberg (6-3) yielded a run on five hits over 5.1 innings with a walk and three strikeouts. Smith threw the final 1.2 innings, giving up a run on two hits, also allowing a walk with three strikeouts.
“Mallory continued to get a little better,” Wares said. But he said he didn’t want to push her.
“It was not so much because of a pitch count but I wanted to take her out while she was still on a bit of a roll. And when you’ve got somebody like Trish (Smith), you’re crazy not to use her because she’s got that closer ability late in games.”
Central only outhit Augsburg 8-7, but jumped on top with a four-run third inning followed by a three-run fourth. First baseman Kaitlyn Matzen (junior, Manly, Central Springs HS) delivered her second homer of the season, a two-run shot to left in the fourth and Sarcone had a two-run single. In the fourth, Strajack drove home a pair of runs with a triple over the center fielder’s head and scored when the throw to third was wild. Matzen and center fielder Paige Heesch (junior, Titonka, WCLT HS) were each 2-for-2 in the game.
Central completes a long weekend with a 1 p.m. doubleheader Monday against traditional NCAA Division III tourney contender Wis.-Eau Claire at the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex field. The Blugolds are 13-5 after defeating St. Scholastica (MInn.) 7-4 and Dubuque 2-1 in Oskaloosa Sunday. They split a twinbill at Simpson Saturday, dropping the opener 5-1 before winning 6-3.The Blugolds are picked to win the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference crown.
“They’re a very well-coached team,” Wares said. “I think they’re actually a little disappointed in being 13-5 but that’s only because their expectations are so high. It will be a fun matchup. It’s good to play a team like this to help get ready for the conference season.”
A video webcast and live stats of both contests will be available via www.central.edu/athletics.