Four NCAA Div. III championships
TUCSON, ARIZ.—Coach George Wares often reminds his Central College softball team that it needs just one run to win a game if the defense does its job.
And while a veteran Dutch offense was far more productive than that Sunday, one run would have again been enough as Central ran its season-opening shutout streak to six games with a pair of one-hitters. Mallory Schulenberg (junior, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius IX HS) was the victor in a 12-0 five-inning romp past Denison (Ohio) and while Trisha Smith (sophomore, New Hampton) allowed just two baserunners in going the distance in a 6-0 victory over Marian (Wis.).
It’s the most consecutive shutouts ever to start a season for the Dutch, and the most overall since a six-game shutout streak in 2001, which is the third-longest in school history. The school record of 10 straight shutouts was established in 1993, with the 1986 squad posting eight in a row. The current string covers 34 innings.
“Nobody denies our schedule has not been as tough as it’s been to start the season in a lot of years, but the pitchers still have to make pitches and the defense still has to make plays, and we’re doing that very consistently right now,” Wares said.
Schulenberg (2-0) walked three and struck out six against Denison (1-1) while Smith walked none and fanned eight against Marian (Wis.) (1-8). Smith, in just her second collegiate start, retired the first 13 hitters before a hard-hit grounder slipped through the right side in the fourth inning. The only other Marian runner reached in the seventh inning on a hit batter.
“I thought Trisha had better command than she did yesterday,” Wares said. “She threw only 80 pitches, which is pretty solid, and her ball/strike ratio was very good. This has to be a big confidence boost for her.”
Meanwhile the Dutch bats pounded out 13 hits in a surprisingly lopsided contest against Denison. Catcher Katie Canney (junior, Adel, ADM HS) got it started with a two-run homer in the second inning while designated player Karlee Rock (junior, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS) added a three-run triple in the third inning. The Dutch used their speed game to break it open in the fourth, scoring seven runs with only one ball leaving the infield. Left fielder Jordan Overland (senior, Boone) and third baseman Whitney Sowers (junior, Marshalltown) each had three hits and scored two runs in the game.
It was opening day for a veteran Denison team.
“Their pitcher (Rebecca Dyer) is legit,” Wares said. “She beat a lot of people last year and was a concern for us. To our players’ credit, when she did make a mistake, they were able to do something with it. Denison is a lot better team than today’s score would indicate.”
The offense was a little slower to develop against Marian, as the Dutch were limited to their lowest run total of the young season. Shortstop Annie Sarcone (senior, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) had three hits, including an RB I single in the first inning. Central got a two-run Canney single in plating three unearned tallies in the fourth inning. Center fielder Paige Heesch (junior, Titonka, WCLT HS) singled home a run with an infield hit in the sixth and Sowers belted her first home run of the season, a shot down the left-field line, in the seventh inning.
“We faced that pitcher (Emily Gorges) last year,” Wares said. “She probably pitched us as well as anybody has so far.”
Sarcone was 4-for-7 on the day, upping her team-high batting mark to .632 with 13 RBIs. Overland had four hits while Canney had three hits and four RBIs, raising her average to .563.
The comfortable victory margins allowed Wares to continue determining player roles.
“We’re pretty set at a lot of positions but we’re looking at players like Sarah Bowen (freshman, New Sharon, North Mahaska HS) and trying to decide if we need her more as a pinch-hitter or a pinch runner,” Wares said. “And likewise, we’re determining how to use Abbie Voas (freshman, Chanhassen, Minn.). I was really happy with the way Abbie swung the bat today. She only had one hit but I thought she had as good of at-bats as anyone.
“We’re also trying to get established who are top pinch-runners are. Today gave us a lot of opportunities to make some decisions on our best options.”
Wares and the Dutch know bigger hurdles lie ahead, beginning Monday when they have to take on Wis.-La Crosse at 1:30 p.m. (Pacific Daylight Time) and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Calif.) at 6 p.m. Central will tackle Claremont-Mudd-Scripps again Wednesday at 11 a.m.
Central’s memories of its last meeting with Wis.-La Crosse inTucson in 2012 are not fond. The Dutch saw a seventh-inning lead melt away as Wis.-La Crosse erupted to run away with a 10-5 victory. The Eagles are 4-0.
Meanwhile, Central pulled off a dramatic 2-0 triumph over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at the 2012 Tucson Invitational Games, winning on a walk-off home run by Caitlyn Meyer. The Athenas were 8-4 winners over Central in the 2010 NCAA Division III regional tournament at Indianola. They’re 7-6 in 2014, playing a demanding schedule but winning seven of their past eight games after a 0-5 start, including a doubleheader sweep of Chapman (Calif.) Feb. 22.
“La Crosse is very strong and our last game with Claremont speaks for itself,” Wares said. “It was one of the better softball games we’ve been involved in and that’s saying a lot.
“Our players know we’re getting everyone’s best shot--Claremont requested to play us twice. These teams are both better than anyone we’ve played so far and we’re getting them both on the same day.”
An audio webcast of Monday’s evening game with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps will be provided through www.kniakrls.com, with Trevor Castle again calling the action as he wraps up his four-day visit.