Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — It was a seventh inning to remember for the No. 12-ranked Central College softball team.
After Wis.-Eau Claire broke open a 3-3 game with five runs in the top of the seventh inning, a three-run homer by freshman right fielder Sarah Bowen (New Sharon, North Mahaska HS), the first of her collegiate career, capped a five-run comeback in the bottom of the seventh. The Dutch went on to post a 9-8 victory in eight innings, then blanked Wis.-Eau Claire 8-0 in five innings to complete the sweep.
Central got the gamewinner when second baseman Abbey Strajack (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS) reached on an error to lead off the eighth. Left fielder Jordan Overland (senior, Boone) bunted her to second base and third baseman Whitney Sowers (junior, Marshalltown) singled up the middle for the walk-off win.
Coach George Wares has been involved in some memorable comebacks with the Dutch, and wasn’t waving the surrender flag after falling behind by five runs, but knew the odds were long.
“You never give up but we were talking to our players saying, ‘OK, let’s do what we can and if we don’t come back, let’s make sure we win the second one,” he said. “To our players’ credit, they came back.”
It was the second straight day that the Dutch got a key long ball from a freshman. Pinch-hitter Abbie Voas (Chanhassen, Minn.) belted a grand slam in a 7-5 win over Augsburg (Minn.) Sunday.
“Sarah still has a ways to go, obviously, but for her to do that, and lay down a bunt for a hit as well, was big,” Wares said. “She also made a really good catch in right (field). She’s starting to do some things that we thought she would because of her athleticism. She can run really well and there’s a lot of upside for her. It was nice for her to break out like that.”
Central had just tied the game 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth on a solo homer by designated player Karlee Rock (junior, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS), also her first of the season, after a three-run fifth inning put Wis.-Eau Claire up 3-2.
With 35-mph south winds howling to left-center field, both clubs struggled at times. Wis.-Eau Claire (13-7) committed five errors in the opener. But the Blugolds were on the brink of spoiling another monster effort from Central sophomore pitcher Trisha Smith (New Hampton), with a five-run, five-hit seventh inning. Smith, who had also recorded wins Saturday and Sunday, threw 123 pitches, matching her previous high posted in a 10-inning win over Chapman (Calif.) March 21.
Smith yielded a season-high 11 hits with two walks and two strikeouts. She was clearly tiring, Wares said, but he was impressed with her resiliency.
“Trish went back out in the eighth inning and was lights out,” he said. “She threw as hard that inning as she had all day.”
Central also had 11 hits, including three by Overland and Sowers. Rock and Bowen each had two hits.
Central rode the momentum of game one for six runs in the first two innings of the nightcap as Sowers continued to sizzle. She added two homers and a double, giving her five hits in six at-bats for the day and raising her average to a steamy .583. She has 35 hits and five homers in 22 games. Sowers moved into a tie for sixth on Central’s career home runs list with 11.
Overland had two hits in the second game to also record five hits on the day as her average climbed to .394. Catcher Katie Canney (junior, Adel, ADM HS) was also 3-for-3, with a double and two singles, and improved to .370. The Dutch are hitting .364 as a team.
“We’re in a pretty good place offensively right now, from one through nine (in the batting order),” Wares said.
Mallory Schulenberg (junior, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) tossed a three-hit shutout, allowing one walk and moving to 7-3.
“For us to be able to win that first game I think maybe let Mallory relax a little more,” Wares said. “She had a pretty good outing.”
Central’s Iowa Conference season-opening doubleheader with Luther College at Decorah slated for Tuesday was postponed until Wednesday at 3 p.m. because of unplayable field conditions.