Four NCAA Div. III championships
PELLA — The Central College and Monclair State University (N.J.) softball teams haven’t met in 25 years, but they employed similar strategies to reach this weekend’s NCAA Division III championships in Eau Claire, Wis.
The two teams clash Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Gelein Field in Carson Park in the fourth game of the day. Friday evening’s winner advances to a 6:30 p.m. Saturday contest with the winner of a 4 p.m. Friday game between Tufts (Mass.) and Texas-Tyler.
NFCA rankings—The Dutch were tossed into a challenging side of the bracket. Central (32-8) is rated No. 16 in the NFCA Division III coaches’ poll. Montclair State (45-3) spent much of the season ranked No. 1 and is currently No. 3. Texas-Tyler (44-4) is No. 5 and Tufts (42-3) is No. 7.
In the top half of the bracket, No. 1-rated Salisbury (Md.) (39-2) meets unranked Cortland State (N.Y.) (32-15) at 11 a.m. Friday while No. 18 Luther (32-9) takes on regional tourney surprise Anderson (Ind.) (31-16) at 1:30 p.m.
Coach George Wares notes that the pairings are drawn randomly, and the Dutch are less focused on the opponent than on preparing to perform.
“If we were going to pick somebody as our first-round opponent, it probably wouldn’t be Montclair State,” Wares said with a smile. “But it is what it is. It’s not like there are bad teams on the other side of the bracket. Every team in the tournament is good.”
On the air and online--The voice of the Dutch, Trevor Castle, will call all of the Central action on KRLS-FM radio (92.1) and can also be heard via www.kniakrls.com. A live video webcast with play-by-play and live stats for all tournament games can be accessed at www.ncaa.com. Twitter updates of Central games will be at @CentralDutch. The Central athletics Facebook page title is Central College Dutch.
There will also be a live stream of Thursday evening’s NCAA tournament banquet, during which the NFCA all-America teams are announced. Video access will begin around 6:50 p.m. at http://www.ncaa.com/interactive-bracket/softball/d3
The Red Hawks—Central’s mantra under NFCA hall of fame coach Wares is pitching and defense, and Montclair State is taking those areas of the game to a new high. The Red Hawks ride the talented arm of crafty junior pitcher Alex Hill, who leads Division III in wins with a 37-3 record and four saves, and ranks third in earned run average at 0.58. She’s logged 265.2 innings—some 150 innings more than any Central pitcher has thrown this spring. Hill ranks fourth in Division III in strikeouts (4.0 per game, 413 overall) while walking just 30 and has recorded or combined on 20 shutouts. She ranks third nationally in hits allowed per game (3.48) and 18th in fewest walks allowed per game (0.79).
All-region junior third baseman Dana Amato is the team’s leading hitter with a .368 mark, driving in a team-high 31 runs while hitting 11 doubles and six home runs. Senior center fielder Jamie Paulino is batting .331 and 18 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 21 tries. Montclair State has a .976 fielding percentage.
“They’ve got a lot of tournament experience and (Hill) is a first-team all-American pitcher,” Wares said. “They’re a typical New Jersey (Athletic) Conference school in that they’ve very athletic and do a lot of things really well. When their pitcher is throwing well, their defense can get in rhythm and it also takes pressure off of their offense.
“But we’ve played a lot of good competition. Part of the reason we played in the Leadoff Classic (March 8-10 in Georgia) and scheduled so many strong opponents was to prepare for opportunities like this.”
And if it’s a low-scoring game, the Dutch have some experience with that as well. Central’s 1-0, eight-inning win over Cornell Thursday was the team’s second 1-0 victory in the past seven games. They also led St. Thomas 1-0 after six innings Sunday.
“We’ve been in a lot of those kind of games,” Wares said.
Montclair State used three one-run victories to earn its regional crown.
Playing small ball—Hill has yielded just five home runs in 265.2 innings, but the Dutch aren’t known for their power anyway. Central had just two extra-base hits in its four regional tourney games.
All-time records vs. opponents: Central has a 2-0 all-time record vs. Montclair State, meeting the Red Hawks in the 1987 and 1988 national tournament. The Dutch are 2-1 vs. Salisbury, meeting the Sea Gulls three times during the 2003 championships, including the title game. Central is 1-1 vs. Tufts, 1-1 vs. Cortland State, 2-0 vs. Anderson, and 44-28 vs. Luther. The Dutch have never played Texas-Tyler.
Luther is the only team in the field that Central has played in 2013. Central swept the Norse in Pella April 27, 1-0 (nine innings) and 5-3, but stumbled May 5 in the Iowa Conference tournament at Cedar Rapids, 9-3.
The coach—Wares is in his 29th season. He took a program that had enjoyed just one winning season and took the Dutch to a second-place finish at the national tournament in just his second year. He’s the all-time wins leader in Division III with a 973-321-3 mark.
Dutch numbers—Central ranks seventh in Division III in team ERA (1.39) and in stolen bases per game (2.43). Pitcher Mallory Schulenberg (sophomore, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) is 14th in ERA at 1.27.
Record watch—Catcher Caitlyn Meyer (senior, Newton) ranks third in school history for season home runs with eight. Right fielder Emily Te Brink (senior, Le Mars) ranks eighth in season runs (38) and third baseman Whitney Sowers (sophomore, Marshalltown) is tied for eighth in season doubles (38).
On the career charts, shortstop Annie Sarcone (junior, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) moved up to third in RBIs (121) with Meyer fifth (107). Meyer is fourth in career home runs (16) and sixth in doubles (32). Te Brink is tied for seventh in walks (63), eighth in runs (96) and tied for ninth in stolen bases (61).
Gaining strength—After losing two starters in the first two innings of Iowa Conference play April 3, the Dutch got the green light for both players in the past few days. Left fielder Jordan Overland (junior, Madrid, Boone HS) returned to action recently as a pinch-runner while the team’s leading hitter, second baseman Abbey Strajack (sophomore, Davenport, Assumption HS), is back as a designated player and earned all-tournament team honors at the Pella Regional after getting six hits in the final two games.
“It’s huge to have them come back,” Wares said. “Abbey probably caused St. Thomas the most problems over the weekend. She was playing with a lot of confidences before she got hurt and nothing has changed. Getting her playing better makes Emily Te Brink play better in the spot behind her and there’s a snowball effect with the rest of the team. And Jordan is a very good pinch-runner and gives us more depth. They give us lots of options.”
The team’s ability to overcome those injuries impressed Wares.
“It’s a tribute to them for sticking with it the way they have,” he said. “To win a share of a conference championship without those two says a lot.”
Strajack upped her average to .447 last weekend. She’s scored 24 runs and stolen 14 basees. Meyer, a first-team all-Midwest Region pick and the conference position player of the year, is hitting .380 with eight homers and 28 RBIs while Te Brink, a third-team all-region honoree for the second straight year, is batting .351 with team highs in runs (38) and stolen bases (18). Rhianna Fleetwood (senior, Sycamore, Ill.), a first-team all-conference pitcher a year ago, missed most of March because of injury but has developed into a valuable weapon as a pinch-hitter or designated player, and even found herself starting in left field in the regional finale last Sunday. She’s hitting .355 with 15 RBIs in just 31 at-bats.
Schulenberg, a first-team all-region pick as a pitcher, is 16-2 with a 1.27 earned run average and freshman Kelsey Stender (Belle Plaine, Minn.) is 10-4 with a 1.26 ERA.
A team turnaround—Central had an unsettling start, losing four of its first five games at the NFCA Leadoff Classic. Since then, the Dutch have recorded a 31-4 mark. Wares noted that preseason drills in February had more than its share of frustrating moments, as well.
“This team has come a long way,” Wares said. “Every team has to go through something. They all have various types of adversity. But this team has shown an ability to handle a lot. The key for any team is to keep believing and this team does. They played the regional not just hoping to win, but they really expected it to happen.
Tournament history--Central has the most extensive all-time tournament resume in the field. The Dutch are making their 25th NCAA tourney appearance, tied with Ithaca (N.Y.) for the most in Division III history, and are in the national finals for the 13th time. Central has 11 top-four national finishes and is the only team among this year’s elite eight with an NCAA title, having won four (1988, 1991, 1993, 2003).
Luther, Montclair State and Tufts are the only finalists who played in last year’s NCAA finalists in Salem, Va.
Montclair State has made 21 NCAA tourney appearances and is making its seventh trip to the national finals, including four under coach Anita Kubicka. The Red Hawks were third last season. They played in Pella in 1992 when Central played host to the national finals, also finishing third. Montclair State’s best finish was second in 1997, when the tournament was staged in Eau Claire.
Tourney return to Eau Claire—This is the sixth time that Wis.-Eau Claire has played host to the NCAA finals. And it’s Central’s fourth tournament trip to Eau Claire. Central played made back-to-back trips there for regional and national tournaments in 1997 and also played in the national finals there in 2001, finishing second.
Iowa Conference in the hunt again—With Luther and Central in this year’s field, it marks the seventh time that the league has had two teams reach the national finals, but the first time since 2003. Central has been one of the two league teams in each of those years. Conference teams have faced each other in the national finals three times, with the Dutch winning all three.
There were three league teams in this year’s regional fields. Coe College, which shared the league crown with Central with a 12-2 mark, was in the Pella Regional with the Dutch while Luther won the Whitewater, Wis. Regional.
Multiple Iowa Conference teams at NCAA finals
1989 – Buena Vista (3rd), Central (participant)
1990 – Central (3rd), Luther (participant) –at Storm Lake
1991 – Central (1st), Luther (participant)
1994 – Central (3rd), Buena Vista (participant)
1997 – Simpson (1st), Central (participant)
2003 – Central (1st), Wartburg (participant)
2013 – Luther, Central
All-Iowa Conference matchups at NCAA finals
1990 – Central 2, Luther 0
1994 – Central 2, Buena Vista 0
2003 – Central 2, Wartburg 1
Finalists’ NCAA Division III tournament history
Team Yrs. W L Pct. Top 4 Titles
Central 25 88 47 .651 11 4
Salisbury (Md.) 17 59 38 .608 3 0
Montclair State (N.J.) 21 53 40 .570 0 0
Cortland State (N.Y.) 19 44 39 .530 1 0
Luther 14 35 29 .547 2 0
Tufts (Mass.) 13 33 24 .579 1 0
Texas-Tyler 6 22 10 ,687 1 0
Anderson (Ind.) 6 15 11 .577 0 0
NCAA Division III softball championships schedule
At Gelein Field; Carson Park; Eau Claire, Wis.
Hosted by Univ. of Wis.-Eau Claire
Friday, May 17
Game 1: 11 a.m.—No. 1 Salisbury (Md.) (39-2) vs. Cortland State (N.Y.) (32-15)
Game-2: 1:30 p.m.--No. 18 Luther (32-9) vs. Anderson (Ind.) (31-16)
Game 3: 4 p.m.--No. 7 Tufts (Mass.) (42-3) vs. No. 5 Texas-Tyler (44-4)
Game 4: 6:30 p.m.—No. 3 Montclair State (N.J.) (45-3) vs. No. 16 Central (32-8)
Saturday, May 18
Game 5: 11 a.m.—Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser
Game 6: 1:30 p.m.—Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser
Game 7: 4 p.m.—Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner
Game 8: 6:30 p.m.—Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner
Sunday, May 19
Game 9: noon—Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 loser
Game 10: 2:30 p.m.—Game 5 winner vs. Game 8 loser
Game 11: 5 p.m.—Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner
Game 12: 7:30 p.m.—Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner
Monday, May 20
Game 13: noon—Game 12 winner vs. Game 11 loser
Game 14: 2:30 p.m.—Game 11 winner vs. Game 13 winner
Tuesday, May 21
Game 15: 11 a.m.—Game 14 winner vs. Game 14 loser (if necessary)