Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA—A couple days off and a return to its home field let the No. 11-ranked Central College softball team regain its footing, yielding just three hits in a pair of five-inning Iowa Conference wins over Loras College Saturday, 8-0 and 10-2.
The Dutch (26-6 overall, 6-2 conference) had showed the effects of playing eight games in a five-day span, including a grueling two-day trek to Luther and Buena Vista earlier in the week. Central was tagged with a startling 20 runs in a doubleheader split at Buena Vista Wednesday.
But Central’s pitchers weren’t in a giving mood Saturday. Mallory Schulenberg (junior, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning in game one. Schulenberg (10-4) threw 4.2 innings, walking two and striking out two. Brie Haycraft (senior, Eldridge, North Scott HS) needed just two pitches to record the final out.
Then Trisha Smith (sophomore, New Hampton) allowed just one earned run on two hits in the nightcap over 4.1 innings, walking four—two intentionally—and fanning seven. Haycraft again sealed it, getting the final two outs on two pitches to drop Loras to 13-15 overall and 1-7 in conference play.
“Mallory took some significant steps,” Wares said. “She’s setting hitters up a little better.”
Both pitchers got a boost from a rejuvenated Dutch defense. Second baseman Abbey Strajack (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS) chased down a blooper that appeared ticketed for a base hit in shallow center field while left fielder Jordan Overland (senior, Boone) dazzled with a diving grab of a line drive in foul territory and right fielder Sarah Bowen (freshman, New Sharon, North Mahaska HS) threw out a runner at first base.
“We scored 17 runs, but we also felt more in rhythm defensively, which is what we’re looking for more than anything,” Wares said. “Defensively, we made some solid plays, particularly in the first game. The players know that if we’re going to make a serious run in the post-season, you’ve got to have great defense. I thought we took a step toward that today.”
Meanwhile the Central offense kept cranking out hits with 19 in the two games, including three home runs. Catcher Katie Canney (junior, Adel, ADM HS) belted her fourth in the opener, a fourth-inning grand slam. Canney had five hits in six at-bats on the day, driving in six runs. Shortstop Annie Sarcone (senior, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) and designated player Karlee Rock (junior, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS) hit back-to-back round trippers in the second game.
It was the third homer for Rock and a team-best sixth for Sarcone, who seemingly etches her name more deeply in the Central record book with each at bat. Sarcone now has a school career-record 24 homers and 166 RBIs, and is closing in on the season RBI mark with 45, just three shy of Katie Tenboer’s 2011 record. With two hits Saturday, she’s up to seventh in career hits with 174. Sarcone also hit her team-high 12th double in Saturday’s opener, tying her for second place with Tina Shimak (2004-07) on the all-time career list with 41.
Overland, Strajack and Rock each had three hits on the day. Rock was 3-for-3 with three walks and has a team-leading 16 bases on balls. Central also picked up seven stolen bases, including six in the nightcap. The Dutch extended their season stolen base lead over opponents to 89-9. Center fielder Paige Heesch (junior, Titonka, WCLT HS) swiped her team-best 14th.
The Dutch were without their season hitting leader, third baseman Whitney Sowers (junior, Marshalltown), except for a pinch-hitting appearance in the first game. But the news was much better than feared when the medical report was revealed Thursday after Sowers was injured at Buena Vista the previous afternoon. She could be back in the lineup as early as next Saturday.
Freshman Abbie Voas (Chanhassen, Minn.), despite making one error, appeared much more at home in filling in for Sowers at third base.
“Abbey made about every play,” Wares said. “I’m happy with the way she played. But she’d be the first to say we need Whitney back.”
Central is hitting .365 as a team but it still comes back to defense for Wares..
“We weren’t concerned about scoring runs,” he said. “We just wanted to have clean games defensively. We didn’t want either game to end 9-5.”
Central doesn’t play again until next Saturday when Simpson College visits for a 2 p.m. league doubleheader. Simpson held off Dubuque at Indianola Saturday, 4-3 and 6-4, to improve to 18-12 overall and 5-3 in the league.
Rest is No. 1 on the agenda for the Dutch, who have played 16 games in the past 15 days. But Wares is also eager to spend some time teaching on the practice field, where defense will again be a priority.
“We’ve only had three outdoor practices all season,” Wares said. “Sometimes we take things for granted in terms of what we expect from our players. But if you don’t practice, you don’t have a chance to improve.”
A video webcast and live stats of next week’s games will be available through the Central athletics website at www.central.edu/athletics. The games will also be broadcast on KRLS-FM (92.1) with the voice of the Dutch, Trevor Castle.
Wares was honored after Saturday's games for becoming the first coach in NCAA Division III softball history to win 1,000 games. The veteran coach reached the milestone Tuesday at Luther and now has a 1,003-329-3 mark. Central president Mark Putnam and athletics director Eric Van Kley (back row, right) participated int he recognition.