Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — There was no final-game comeback, but it was nonetheless a ride to remember for the Central College softball team.
The No. 5 Dutch (36-10) saw their season end in the NCAA Division III regional with a 2-0 loss to No. 19 Coe College Saturday. Central made a living off of stirring finishes in 2012, including rallying from a four-run sixth-inning deficit as part of a sweep of the Kohawks a week earlier at the Iowa Conference tournament. But in the teams' sixth meeting of the year and their 11th of the past two seasons, Coe got the game's only runs in the fifth inning and made them stand up.
Central was also blanked by Wis.-River Falls Friday, 6-0, before outscoring St. Scholastica (Minn.) 10-2.
“It’s the first two times we’ve been shut out all year,” coach George Wares said. “Unfortunately, it happened at an inopportune time.”
The Dutch did manage five hits off Coe ace Ashlee Simon (22-6) and in the sixth inning, threatened to answer Coe’s tallies. Designated player Abbey Strajack (freshman, Davenport, Assumption HS) delivered an infield hit and left fielder Emily Te Brink (junior, Le Mars) walked, but Simon retired the next three hitters.
Catcher Kyrie Hale (senior, Lee’s Summit, Mo., West HS), who began the season unsure of a starting spot, won the job at first base, then filled in ably when catcher Caitlyn Meyer (junior, Newton) was lost for the season because of injury, had two hits in the game, as did first baseman Jordan Overland (sophomore, Madrid, Boone HS).
Pitcher Rhianna Fleetwood (junior, Sycamore, Ill.) took the loss, allowing six hits with no walks while striking out three.
It was a quiet end to a remarkable year. Central suffered some significant graduation losses from a year ago and there were several question marks heading into the season, but the Dutch exceeded expectations on every front, particularly in the pitching circle. Fleetwood blossomed, closing at 16-4 with a 1.26 ERA. Brie Haycraft (sophomore, Eldridge, North Scott HS) delivered some huge wins, particularly on the team’s Arizona trip, and finished 10-6, and unheralded freshman Mallory Schulenberg (Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) startled even Wares with a flashy 10-0 record and a team-best 1.22 earned run average.
Meanwhile another freshman, Strajack, finished as the team’s leading hitter with a .382 mark, and Iowa Conference position player of the year Annie Sarcone (sophomore, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) hit .374 with nine homers and 46 RBIs. Central was a surprise offensively as well, hitting .333 as a team, the third-highest mark in school history. The 2012 squad ranks second in the Central record book in RBIs (224), second in on-base percentage (.405), second in slugging percentage (.451), third in doubles (64) and third in runs (273).
The Dutch burst out of the gates with a 14-2 record against a daunting schedule in Arizona, finished second in the Iowa Conference, then pulled off three straight wins over nationally ranked opponents in one day to take their first league tournament crown a week ago in Decorah. That clinched the program’s 24th NCAA tournament berth.
“When you look at it overall, what this team accomplished is remarkable,” Wares said. “You look at where we were and where we went, this team, in some ways, achieved as much as any team we’ve had.”
Five Central seniors played their last collegiate game in the same moments that their classmates were receiving their diplomas in adjacent H.S. Kuyper Fieldhouse. Second baseman Angela Davis (West Des Moines, Valley HS) and center fielder Holly Von Fumetti (Johnston) served as team co-captains but were also key components of the team’s stout defensive core. Central’s .966 fielding percentage was the third-highest in school history and the Dutch turned a school-record 25 double plays, including 14 involving Davis.
Davis was a four-year starter and four-time all-conference honoree. She ranks third in school history in career hits (192), tied for first in triples, (16), fifth in doubles (36), third in total bases (275), fourth in runs (121), sixth in RBIs (96) and ninth in batting average (.357).
Also graduating are Hale, left fielder Rachael Everingham (Georgetown, Ill., Georgetown-Ridge Farm HS) and catcher Jess Edler (Clarence).
Hale hit .333 and cracked 16 doubles, one shy of the school record, while driving in 29 runs. Everingham, who earned all-America honors in 2009 and was a four-year regular, surged late in the year and hit .294. She'll forever have a spot in the all-time Central softball highlight book with clutch two-out, two-run seventh-ininng double in last year's NCAA regional against Wis.-Whitewater, staving off elimination and leading to an eventual eight-inning triumph.
The seniors’ departure makes the regional setbacks especially difficult, Wares said.
“It’s not so much about whether we get to the national tournament or win it, but you just don’t want it to end,” he said. “That’s how much they invest in it and how much we invest in it, but we also realize that’s it, and now we’ve got five great people graduating. You just hope they take a little bit of what they’ve learned here, carry it with them and have success in whatever they do in the rest of their lives.”
Wares hasn’t spent a lot of time looking ahead, but is excited about what he sees.
“We’ve got a lot of good young players and we feel very good about the people we’ve got coming in,” he said. “You just hope that the returning players take what these seniors contributed and pass that on to the freshmen coming in. We’ll regroup and have the same goals next year of making the national tournament and winning a national championship.”