Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — Not even 25 hits were enough for the Central College softball team to pull off an Iowa Conference doubleheader sweep of Simpson College Saturday.
Instead the No. 12 Dutch (27-7 overall, 7-3 conference) were left just inches away, dropping a 2-1 decision after rolling to an 11-3, six-inning victory in the opener. The difference in the nightcap was a sixth-inning Simpson home run by pitcher Abbie Van Vleet, whose line drive to left-center field got a little boost from strong southerly winds, hit the top of the fence and skidded safely over.
“I didn’t think it would get out,” coach George Wares said. “I thought it would hit the fence and be a two-out double. I would have been OK with that.”
But Wares was more disappointed by the Dutch offense failing to score more than a run. Central, batting a scorching .370 as a team for the season, outhit Simpson 9-5 and had baserunners in six of the seven innings, but had only one run-scoring hit—a two-out infield single by left fielder Jordan Overland (senior, Boone) in the third inning. Overland was 3-for-3 in the game. Central had hits in six of the seven innings, but lost two runners on steal attempts and had another thrown out at the plate. Meanwhile, Simpson staff ace Van Vleet didn’t give up a walk and got the outs she needed in upping her record to 14-2.
“I thought we hit the ball well,” Wares said. “We just didn’t get the timely hit.
“It’s disappointing because, overall, I was happy with the way we played.”
Coming off a week of much-needed rest, the Dutch pitching staff began returning to form. Mallory Schulenberg (junior, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) improved to 11-4 in the opener, giving up two earned runs on seven hits with two walks and four strikeouts. Trisha Smith (sophomore, New Hampton) dropped to 11-2 in the second game, limiting Simpson to five hits in 6.2 innings with a walk and four strikeouts. Reliever Brie Haycraft (senior, Eldridge, North Scott HS) also retired a batter.
“That solidified, in our minds, that with rest, our pitching is pretty good,” Wares said. “Mallory had great command. She gave up a couple of late runs because we didn’t make plays behind her. I thought Trish was really sharp, and Brie came in and got a big out.”
Central pounded out 16 hits in the opener, jumping to a 7-0 lead in the third inning. First baseman Kaitlyn Matzen (junior, Manly, Central Springs HS) had three hits and drove in two runs while second baseman Abbey Strajack (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS) had two hits and had three RBIs. Shortstop Annie Sarcone (senior, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS), designated player Karlee Rock (junior, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS), catcher Katie Canney (junior, Adel, ADM HS) and right fielder Sarah Bowen (freshman, New Sharon, North Mahaska HS) each had two hits.
Matzen had two more hits in the second game, giving her five on the day and upping her average to .361. She’s among eight Dutch starters hitting .350 or better. Central also got a pair of hits from third baseman Whitney Sowers (junior, Marshalltown), who returned to action after being injured in the opening game of an April 9 twinbill at Buena Vista.
“Whitney clearly isn’t herself yet but she’ll get progressively better,” Wares said. “She wasn’t as much of a power threat today but she made a great adjustment by just shortening up and going with the pitch. And she was her old self defensively. She made a couple of huge plays.”
The split allowed No. 9 Coe College to take over sole possession of first place in the league at 8-2, a game ahead of Central and two games in front of No. 8 Luther, which handed the Kohawks their only two conference defeats. Coe, 30-5 overall, swept Buena Vista 7-3 and 7-0 Saturday, as sophomore pitcher Arran Weeces threw a perfect game in the nightcap, striking out 14 of 21 hitters.
Coe comes to Pella Tuesday for Central’s final home-season doubleheader, starting at 3 p.m. at the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex field.
“Coe has great pitching,” Wares said. “If our pitchers throw like they did today, we’ll be in the hunt, but we’re not going to have scoring opportunities in every inning. We have to find a way to score some runs.”
Central then completes the league schedule next Saturday at the University of Dubuque. However, the win over Simpson in Saturday’s opener clinched a spot in the six-team conference tournament, slated for May 1-3 at the home of the league regular-season champ.
A video webcast and live stats of Tuesday’s games will be available through www.central.edu/athletics. An audio webcast of the second game, featuring sportscaster Trevor Castle, can be accessed through www.kniakrls.com.