Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — With offense suddenly in short supply, the Central College softball team combined two big hits, aggressive baserunning and a squeeze bunt for a 3-2 walk-off victory to complete a sweep of the University of Dubuque Monday.
After cruising to an 8-0, six-inning win in the opener, it seemed fortunes turned and all signs began pointing to a disheartening day for the eighth-ranked Dutch (23-5 overall, 4-2 Iowa Conference). Junior Caitlyn Meyer (Newton), the team clean-up hitter and a three-year starter at catcher, was injured rounding third base late in the first game. She was sidelined for the rest of the day and likely indefinitely. Then Dubuque scored a pair of unearned runs in the fourth inning of the second game and, as a fierce northwest wind blew towards the batters, the Dutch found themselves with just two hits and staring at a 2-1 deficit entering the seventh inning.
But third baseman Whitney Sowers (freshman, Marshalltown) lined a sharp single to right field to start the seventh. One out later, with designated player Jordan Overland (sophomore, Madrid, Boone HS) at first, shortstop Annie Sarcone (sophomore, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) ripped a shot into the teeth of the wind to left field, hitting the fence. Coach George Wares sent Overland all the way home where she was beaten by the throw but not the tag.
“We gambled,” Wares said. “I was really debating whether I should send her. I felt good with Rachael Everingham (senior, Georgetown, Ill., Georgetown-Ridge Farm HS) coming up next, but Jordan’s a fast runner and I knew she’d make a great slide.”
Sarcone advanced to third and then Everingham put down a suicide squeeze bunt as pinch-runner Lexie Cessna (sophomore, Bloomington, Ill., Normal HS) slid ahead of the tag at the plate for the gamewinner.
Central got its other run in the second when Everingham singled and pinch-runner Heidi Reburn (junior, New Albin, Kee HS) scored on a double steal.
Wares said good teams find ways to get through adversity.
“When you play this many games, particularly in our league, you’re going to have games where you struggle,” he said. “It’s not always going to be easy. I’m pleased and impressed that we were able to come back.”
Wares was quick to credit Dubuque (11-11 overall, 2-4 conference) as well.
“I thought Dubuque played a great game and their pitcher (Jessica Nearad) threw very well,” he said.
Both teams finished with four hits and Rhianna Fleetwood (junior, Sycamore, Ill.) emerged the winner. She’s 8-2 after giving up a pair of unearned runs, walking four and fanning one.
There weren’t nearly as many theatrics in the opener. Pitchers Brie Haycraft (sophomore, Eldridge, North Scott HS) and Mallory Schulenberg (freshman, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) combined on a one-hit shutout. Haycraft (7-3) had a no-hitter for five innings, walking three and striking out four.
“Brie threw really well,” Wares said. “But she was feeling a little tight and we wanted to give Mallory some work.”
First baseman Kyrie Hale (senior, Lee’s Summit, Mo., West HS), who finished the day as the Dutch catcher, lined her first home run of the season in the second inning, a two-run shot. Central added two runs in the third, fourth and sixth innings, with Sowers ending the game with a run-scoring double. Hale had two hits in the game as she and right fielder Emily Te Brink (junior, Le Mars) each scored two runs. Te Brink had two stolen bases, giving her a team-high 17 for the season.
Meyer’s injury dampened any celebration.
“When something like that happens, obviously it affects the team, but you’re more concerned about the player,” Wares said. “People on the outside don’t realize how much these players put into this. We don’t know how long she’s going to be out but obviously it’s going to be a while. As a team we’ll deal with it because that’s what we have to do, but we feel so badly for Caitlyn.”
After a pair of intense doubleheaders last week followed by Monday’s twinbill, Wares is grateful the Dutch have some time off. They don’t return to action until Saturday at Waverly, taking on Wartburg College (6-24 overall, 0-6 conference) in a 2 p.m. league doubleheader.
“We’re ready for a break,” Wares said. “I think the effects of last week are still with us. We’ll go very light in practice the next couple days, try to get healthy and then see where we are.”