Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — Like much of 2014, Saturday’s NCAA Division III tournament game had a promising start for the Central College softball team.
But while the effort, as always, was there, the results were not as the Dutch nursed a 1-0 lead on Iowa Conference rival Luther College into the sixth inning, only to see their postseason hopes fly over the left-field fence in the fierce south winds at the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex field. Three home runs to left in the final two frames carried the Norse to a 7-3 victory, ending Central’s season at 30-12.
That spoiled a determined pitching effort by Mallory Schulenberg (junior, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS), who had one of her most competitive recent sh
owings, shutting out Luther through five innings. But a two-run homer in the sixth inning gave Luther the lead and the Norse added another long ball in the seventh before Schulenberg gave way to reliever Brie Haycraft (senior, Eldridge, North Scott HS). Haycraft also surrendered a homer that capped a five-run Luther seventh inning. Trisha Smith (sophomore, New Hampton) had to record the final two outs for the Dutch.
“I was very happy with the way Mallory pitched,” coach George Wares said. “She was a little bit more like the pitcher we know she can be. She gave a great effort. But we had many opportunities to extend our lead and we didn’t do it.
“We were just not very productive when we needed to be. If it’s 2- or 3-0 instead of 1-0, that makes a huge difference. It’s pretty hard to beat a team like Luther 1-0.”
Pretty hard, indeed, but the Dutch gave it a shot. Schulenberg gave up hits in the third and fourth innings yet emerged unscathed, and in the fifth, Luther put runners on second and third with no outs. But after Schulenberg notched a strikeout, shortstop Annie Sarcone (senior, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) snagged a line shot and then So
wers leaped to make a remarkable backhanded grab of a rocket ticketed for the left-field corner to escape another threat.
Meanwhile the Dutch had nine hits but where blanked for five innings after breaking on top in the first, when second baseman Abbey Strajack (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS) walked, and later scored on a single by third baseman Whitney Sowers (junior, Marshalltown).
“Our defense has been very consistent,” Wares said. “Annie made some great plays and Whitney’s catch was phenomenal. That gave you hope that maybe we actually could win 1-0.”
That notion was dispelled an inning later. But characteristically, Central went down fighting. Trailing 7-1 with one out in the bottom of the seventh, the Dutch used a h
it batter and singles by Sarcone, designated player Karlee Rock (junior, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS) and catcher Katie Canney (junior, Adel, ADM HS) to produce a two-run rally before the final two outs were recorded.
“We hit well, but not when we had runners in scoring position,” said Wares, who said that assessment applied to both Saturday’s game and the season.
It is a measure of the Central program’s unreasonably high standards that any kind of disappointment can be attached to a 30-12 season and while the goal is always to be clutching an NCAA trophy when the year concludes, Wares refuses to let that diminish the considerable achievements of the 2014 squad.
“It’s hard to say right now, but in two weeks I think we’ll be able to look back and say this was a very rewarding season,” he said.
And that’s in large part due to the contributions of the squad’s six seniors. Sarcone, Haycraft, left fielder Jordan Overland (Boone), pinch-runner and second baseman Chelsea Greiner (Agency, Cardinal HS), outfielder Lexi Cessna (Bloomington, Ill., Normal HS) and outfielder Taylor Williams (Blue Springs, Mo.) helped Central post a 137-41 record over four seasons, with four NCAA tournament berth, two Iowa Conference crowns and a national finals appearance.
“If you look at the seniors as a total package, what they did over four years is outstanding,” Wares said. That includes their work in the classroom, where they have excelled, led by Overland, an NCAA Elite 89 Award winner a year ago who will graduate with a 3.97 grade point average.
In the record books, Sarcone left the biggest impression, closing as the school’s career leader in home runs (25), RBIs (172) and total bases (304). Her 3-for-3 effort in her final Central game moved her into fifth place on the career hits list with 186. Sarcone also broke the season RBI mark with 51. She hit .433 for the year with 14 doubles and seven homers while Sowers led the Dutch with a lofty .491 mark—among the highest in school history--despite being hampered by injury late in the year. Haycraft closed as the squad’s ERA leader at 1.94 along with a 6-2 record.