2012 Iowa Conference champions
PELLA — Racking up the second-highest win total in school history, the Central College baseball team capped yet another productive year with a second-place finish at the Iowa Conference tournament Saturday.
The Dutch, 28-16, swept Coe and Wartburg Thursday before getting sent into the elimination bracket by league champion Buena Vista Friday. But Central came back Saturday morning to oust Loras, 7-2. That set up a rematch with Buena Vista (36-7). Playing their fifth game in three days, the Dutch tanks were on empty in a 10-0, seven-inning setback.
But not before Central’s 13 seniors posted their 101st career win, the most successful four-year run in school history.
The Dutch pounded out 13 hits in the victory over Loras, taking a 3-1 lead in the first inning and retaining control the rest of the way. Left fielder Zach Zylstra (junior, Pella, Pella Christian HS) had four hits, including a double, and knocked in three runs.
“Zach had a really good season,” coach Adam Stevens said. “He really turned it on in the second half.”
First baseman Grant Seuferer (senior, Milo, Southeast Warren HS) and shortstop Jordan Judkins (senior, Marshalltown) each had two hits. Seuferer had a triple, driving in two runs and scoring twice.
Freshman pitcher Blake Judkins (Marshalltown) delivered a clutch performance. After yielding a first-inning run, he kept Loras off the board until the eighth. Judkins (3-2) threw 7.1 innings, allowing two runs on six hits. He walked six while striking out six.
“Blake had a little bit of a rough start, but he was lights out the rest of the day,” Stevens said. “It’s exciting what he did against a quality hitting team like Loras. We’re looking forward to seeing him develop. He can be really good.”
Buena Vista appears poised for a lengthy NCAA Division III tournament run, Stevens said. The Beavers (36-7) outhit Central 13-2. Senior Robbie Rushing (West Des Moines, Valley HS) took the loss, allowing three earned runs on six hits with a walk and a strikeout in two innings. He’s 4-3. The Dutch needed to sweep Buena Vista Saturday to win the tourney, admittedly a daunting assignment.
“We all knew it would be tough,” Stevens said. “BV is as good of a team as I’ve seen in my time at Central. The guys fought hard to the last out but you have to tip your cap to BV. They are certainly deserving of the title.”
But Stevens isn’t going to feel bad about a 28-16 campaign in which the Dutch closed with a 17-6 surge. Six of the losses were to Buena Vista.
“After we lost our first two games (to Grinnell) in March, if you’d told me this team would win 28 games, I don’t think I would have taken that bet,” he said.
Yet the team’s response to four hard-fought losses at Buena Vista April 6-7 was impressive. The Dutch had to come right back and travel to Simpson April 8 and came away with a doubleheader sweep that propelled them to win 17 of the season’s final 23 games.
“We caught fire after that BV series,” Steves said. “That day (at Simpson) was kind of a turning point for the season. It didn’t come easily. We had to work really hard. But the guys really accepted their roles and that all comes from our seniors. They’re all outstanding role models, great teammates and great leaders. They were the key to our success.”
Rushing closed as the team’s top hitter with a .410 average, hitting a school-record 23 doubles with six homers and 46 RBIs. Jordan Judkins hit .379 with five triples and 30 RBIs and second baseman Adam Ariola (senior, Bloomington, Ill., Normal HS) hit .340. Senior pitcher Judson McKown (Independence, Minn., Orono HS) posted a 1.50 earned run average over 66 innings, allowing just 11 earned runs and going 6-3.
Central climbed into the NCAA Division III regional rankings and earned some postseason consideration. But Stevens and the Dutch will have to move forward without their biggest class.
“I wish we could keep playing,” Stevens said. “I’ll really miss those guys. Players like that are absolutely the reason I coach.”
Yet a program that has averaged 25 wins over the past five years has lofty goals ahead.
“We had some young guys contribute this year and we also have some players we feel really good about who didn’t get to play because there were seniors in front of them,” Stevens said. “I’m excited for the future. We’ll look to continue to get better.”