Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — The first inning was the difference Saturday for the No. 6 Central College softball team in a doubleheader split with Simpson College.
A three-run opening frame fueled the Dutch in a 5-2 win in the opener, but Simpson answered with a four-run first inning in a 9-3 nightcap decision.
Central (26-6 overall, 7-3 Iowa Conference) loaded the bases with three first-inning walks in the opener and second baseman Angela Davis (senior, West Des Moines, Valley HS) delivered a three-run double.
“That was big,” coach George Wares said. “And it was huge for the team because it really set the tone.”
The Dutch cushioned their lead in the sixth inning when pinch-hitter Karlee Rock (freshman, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS) belted her first collegiate homer, a two-run shot to left-center to make it 5-0.
Pitcher Rhianna Fleetwood (junior, Sycamore, Ill.) blanked Simpson (26-12 overall, 9-5 conference) on just two hits through six innings, then gave up two runs on three hits in the seventh before nailing down the win to improve to 10-2. She walked none and struck out three.
“I thought Rhianna pitched really well,” Wares said. “She had a little trouble finishing it in the seventh but it was nice to get that two-run homer.”
Yet there was no second-game letdown for Simpson, which crushed four home runs, including two in a four-run first inning. It was an uncharacteristic rocky outing for pitcher Brie Haycraft (sophomore, Eldridge, North Scott HS). She had yielded only three homers all year but gave up three to Simpson while reliever Mallory Schulenberg (freshman, Kansas City, Mo., St. Piux IX HS) surrendered another. Haycraft (8-4) gave up five runs on four hits in two innings, walking one and striking out one. Schulenberg yielded four runs on six hits in five innings with no walks and three strikeouts.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Simpson,” Wares said. “They really needed that win and came back with a big first inning. They hit the ball hard.
“But we obviously weren’t as sharp. We’ve been very good in back-to-back games this year, but it just wasn’t there. I didn’t think our at-bats were very solid. Part of it was when we got down 4-0, we started pressing. We just didn’t play very well.”
But it was a productive day for freshman designated player Abbey Strajack (Davenport, Assumption HS) who had five hits and a walk, including three of Central’s seven hits in the second game.
“Abbey had a great day,” Wares said. “We weren’t sure how she’d handle batting leadoff, but she had some quality at-bats. And I like what (first baseman) Jordan Overland (sophomore, Madrid, Boone HS) did behind her. Hopefully they’ll continue doing a good job of getting on base and setting the table.”
After playing just one doubleheader in the previous 12 days, the Dutch are in another hectic stretch, returning to the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex field Sunday for a 2 p.m. league twinbill with Cornell College, then heading to Storm Lake to meet Buena Vista University Tuesday.
Cornell is 19-11 overall and 6-4 in the league after a solid doubleheader sweep of Loras College Saturday, winning 10-0 in five innings and 1-0 in eight innings.
“They got two big wins today and are playing very well,” Wares said.