Four NCAA Div. III championships
TUCSON, ARIZ.—Enduring some drama it could have done without, the Central College softball team nonetheless displayed both poise and persistence in overcoming Chapman University (Calif.) 5-4 in 10 innings after earlier holding off Whittier College (Calif.) 5-4 in the Tucson Invitaitonal Games Friday.
And among the answers revealed to preseason questions as the Dutch (11-3) head into the final day of their 16-game spring break trip was one that came through in bold letters: sophomore Trisha Smith (New Hampton) can pitch. Smith, who didn’t even make the spring break trip last year and spent the season with the junior varsity, made her varsity debut a week ago. She was dominant for much of Friday’s contest with Chapman, raising her record to 4-0 with a sparkling 0.52 earned run average.
Smith carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, allowing just one baserunner in the first six frames. Central had a seemingly secure 3-0 lead and even after Smith yielded a lead-off single in the seventh, appeared to be in good shape following a pair of sacrifice bunts.
That’s when things suddenly spun out of control. Smith issued a two-out walk and coach George Wares turned to ace Mallory Schulenberg (junior, Kansas City, Mo., St. Pius X HS) to nail down the win. But Schulenberg had already thrown seven innings in the win over Whittier that morning, and was promptly tagged for back-to-back doubles. Suddenly the game was tied 3-3. Smith reentered and got a strikeout to end the inning.
The international tiebreaker rule was employed, with both teams starting the next inning with a runner on second base. After Central failed to score in the eighth, Smith had to wriggle free from a Chapman threat that had the winning run at third base with just one out. An RBI double to start the eighth by shortstop Annie Sarcone (senior, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) gave Central a 4-3 lead, but a bid for a crucial extra run went sour when a squeeze bunt attempt was turned into an inning-ending double play and Chapman tied it in the bottom of the inning.
The Dutch appeared to be in trouble in the 10th as well, when a force play and a failed stolen base try seemingly ended a Central threat. But with two outs, slap hitter Paige Heesch (junior, Titonka, WCLT HS) lined a single to center field and Lexi Cessna (senior, Bloomington, Ill., Normal HS) was able to race home from second base for a 5-4 lead.
“Paige is a little better hitting away than she gives herself credit for,” Wares said. “She came up with a really timely base hit and Lexi made a nice slide at home.”
With two outs in the bottom of the 10th, Chapman (13-11) advanced the tying run to third base and the potential winning run was on first base following a Smith walk, but she induced a force out to notch the biggest win of her young career.
“Probably the most impressive part for Trish was coming back in,” Wares said. “It’s hard to go out of a game and come back in like that and be successful. She had a great performance.”
Wares liked his team’s ability to maintain its composure.
“To still find a way to win a game like that, especially when we were cruising, for us to be able to win that game after it looked like it was taken away from us, is really impressive and something to put in the memory backs for down the road.”
Smith threw 10 innings—longer than she’d ever thrown in high school, she said—striking out 12 batters and walking three while limiting Chapman to just two hits. She was charged with two earned runs.
“She doesn’t seem to tire,” Wares said. “I didn’t really sense that she was losing much on her fastball.”
Sarcone sets RBI record--Smith’s performance overshadowed a significant milestone that Sarcone quietly reached as she broke Central’s career runs batted in mark. Her two RBIs Friday gave her 142 for her career, two more than the standard set by Katie Tenboer (2008-11). Sarcone, who is hitting .500 for the season, also climbed into 11th in career hits with 155. She has 21 hits and a team-high nine stolen bases in 14 games.
Dutch hold off Whittier--The finish of the opener with Whittier became a bit more tense than expected as well.
Up 5-1 in the seventh inning, Whittier led off with three straight singles to load the bases. But then first baseman Kaitlyn Matzen (junior, Manly, Central Springs HS) snagged a line drive and dove on the bag for a double play. That loomed even bigger when Whittier’s Alexandra Flores followed with a 3-run homer to left-center field before Schulenberg (4-2) notched a game-ending strikeout.
“To me the play of the day was the stab of the line drive by Kaitlyn Matzen for a double play,” Wares said. “If that doesn’t happen, who knows what might have happened. They still came back to make it 5-4 but it’s a lot different when there’s then two outs with the bases empty. So that was a huge play.”
Wares said Whittier (15-6) is a powerful offensive club and looked like it. The Poets had eight hits off Schulenberg, who walked two—one intentionally—and struck out four.
“I think Mallory was really pretty sharp,” Wares said.
Designated player Karlee Rock (junior, Wheatland, Calamus-Wheatland HS) had a key two-run single to get the Dutch going in the first inning.
Second baseman Abbey Strajack (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS) had four hits on the day while Sarcone had three. Third baseman Whitney Sowers (junior, Marshalltown) had two hits against Chapman and was on base four times in the game. She remains Central’s leading hitter with a torrid .564 mark. Strajack is hitting .438.
Central concludes its Arizona trip against a pair of Minnesota schools, meeting NCAA Division III playoff contender Gustavus Adolphus (Minn.) at 9 a.m. (Pacific Daylight Time) and St. Olaf at 11 a.m.
An audio webcast of Saturday’s first game can be accessed at 11 a.m. (Central Time) via www.kniakrls.com. If problems are encountered connecting to the webcast, call the KNIA-KRLS studio at 641-628-8672.