Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — Sophomore Jordan Overland (Madrid, Boone HS) entered the game as a pinch-runner but delivered they key blow at the plate as the No. 8 Central College softball team pulled off a significant sweep of Washington-St. Louis University Thursday, 3-0 and 4-1.
After pounding out 21 hits in a surprising sweep at No. 3 Coe College Wednesday, the Dutch (21-5) had to rely on their more familiar strengths of pitching and defense to stymie Washington (15-9).
Runs were scarce in the nightcap as Overland pinch-ran for freshman third baseman Whitney Sowers (Marshalltown), who led off the fourth inning with a walk. It was the second pinch-runner of the game for Sowers, leaving Overland to remain in the game at third. The gamble failed when Central’s rally fizzled. But with the game still scoreless in the fifth, Overland got a two-out chance with left fielder Emily Te Brink (junior, Le Mars) at third base and second baseman Angela Davis (senior, West Des Moines, Valley HS) at first. It was only Overland’s 15th at-bat of the year, but she lined a 1-2 pitch off the pitcher’s glove for an RBI single that put the Dutch on top.
“I was not surprised at all,” coach George Wares said. “I think a lot of people might have questioned why we took Whitney (Sowers) out, but it really has nothing to do with Whitney. We obviously wanted Jordan in there for her speed and even though she didn’t score, the hit she got with two strikes was hit hard and really got us going.”
Catcher Caitlyn Meyer (junior, Newton) followed with a two-run double, her second hit of the game. A single by left fielder Rachael Everingham (senior, Georgetown, Ill., Georgetown-Ridge Farm HS) led to an unearned run in the sixth.
Pitcher Brie Haycraft (sophomore, Eldridge, North Scott HS), who picked up her third save in two days in the opener, got the win in relief of Mallory Schulenberg (freshman, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS). Haycraft (6-3) gave up four hits and a run with one walk and four strikeouts in four innings. Schulenberg threw three innings of three-hit, shutout ball, walking one and fanning one.
Central was outhit 9-8 but the Dutch defense came up big, turning two double plays and cutting down two Washington baserunners at the plate.
In the opener, pitcher Rhianna Fleetwood (junior, Sycamore, Ill.) had one of her sharpest showings despite a quick turnaround after giving up six runs in a 9-6 win at Coe Wednesday. Fleetwood (7-2) went 5.2 innings, allowing no runs on four hits with one walk and one strikeout. Haycraft gave up only a hit with no walks and a strikeout in the final 1.1 innings.
“Rhianna pitched really well,” Wares said. “We made some defensive plays but she’s just getting more and more confident and really that’s all she’s been lacking. We’ve always thought she’s had the skill. So we’re really happy that she can get wins against two quality opponents.”
Each team had just five hits, but Central broke on top in the second inning when first baseman Kyrie Hale (senior, Lee’s Summit, Mo., West HS) lined a two-out RBI double to right-center field in the second inning. Sowers cracked her third home run of the year to lead off the fourth and the Dutch added a run in the sixth on a daring double steal, with Overland swiping second and pinch-runner Heidi Reburn (junior, New Albin, Kee HS) taking home. Reburn has 11 steals for the year with 13 runs scored.
“We got outhit but we’ve got some speed that manufactured a few runs and I think defensively, we’ve been really, really solid,” Wares said. “If we continue to pitch like that and play defense like that, I think we’ll have a successful run.”
The outlook is considerably sunnier than it was after two disappointing losses at No. 5 Luther College Saturday.
“I think this says a lot about our players,” Wares said. “Not only did we lose two games Saturday, but we lost them both in the late innings. We had to do a lot of soul-searching in the next 48 hours. To come back and win four games and do it against quality teams on back-to-back days, that’s pretty special. I’m very, very proud of our players.”
But Wares warns, Central’s challenging stretch of the season isn’t over. The Dutch come back again Saturday, playing host to the University of Dubuque in a conference doubleheader starting at 2 p.m. at the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex field, giving Central eight games in eight days.
“We said all along our biggest games in this stretch might be the Dubuque games,” Wares said. “It will be eight games in a week. We’ll be a little tired and we give Dubuque a lot of respect because they’ve beaten us.”
Dubuque is also 2-2 in the league and is 11-9 overall. The Spartans shut down Wis.-La Crosse 3-0 in Arizona March 12, just two days before Wis.-La Crosse outscored Central, 10-5.
No. 600 for O’Brien—The win in Thursday’s nightcap was career victory No. 600 for Dutch associate head coach Alicia O’Brien. She posted a 423-213-3 (.664) during 17 successful seasons as head coach at Western Connecticut State University, guiding the Colonials to eight NCAA Division III tournament berths. She’s now in her sixth season at Central where she’s 177-65 (.731) with NCAA tourney appearances the past three years.
“Well, 600 means you’ve been doing it a real long time and you’ve surrounded yourself with great players,” O’Brien said. “So I’m happy with the doubleheader sweep today and totally surprised about No. 600.”