Central jolted on NCAA softball tourney trail

Central College

PELLA—A promising start but a cruel finish have left the Central College softball team with a daunting road back in the NCAA Division III Pella, Iowa Regional.

The Dutch (32-9) saw a 2-0 fifth-inning lead vanish as St. Thomas got a pair of unearned runs then erupted for a seven-run sixth for a 10-2, six-inning decision.

That puts Central against highly regarded Washington-St. Louis (Mo.) in a 1:30 p.m. elimination game Saturday. The Bears (26-13) had a seventh-inning comeback falter in a 2-1 loss to Iowa Conference rival Coe College. Coe (30-9) meets St. Thomas (34-9) in a winner’s bracket game at 11 a.m. The loser of that game takes on the Washington-Central winner at 4 p.m. Saturday while the Coe-St. Thomas winner advances to Sunday’s final. The Dutch need to win four straight to emerge with the regional title.

“This is what we talked about with this regional,” coach George Wares said. “It’s the toughest four-team regional in the country. So it’s not so much who you play first but it’s if you get in this position, not only do you have to win four, but you have to do it against nationally ranked teams.”

And that’s because the St. Thomas offense broke loose after pitcher Karly Olson (senior, Winterset) held the Tommies in check the first three frames.

But up 2-0 in the fourth, the Dutch let St. Thomas get on the board with a two-out single and double.

In the fifth, a near double play was followed by an error and a two-out, two-run Chase Shortly hit that put the Tommies on top, 3-2.

Wares opted for pitcher Marah Fritz (sophomore, Tama, East Marshall HS) to start the sixth but after yielding back-to-back singles, Olson returned, but St. Thomas followed with a bunt single to load the bases and the day went off the rails from there. A Sammy Hogan single through the left side produced a run and freshman Elise Barnes stunned the Dutch crowd with a towering grand slam to left field, into a stiff north wind. The assault continued as a two-run double by Megan Bush, who was 3-for-3, made it 10-2.

Central had seemingly taken command early with runs in the second and third innings. Designated player Amanda Sigulas (freshman, Morton, Ill.), delivering clutch hits with regularity in her rookie season, ripped a two-out RBI hit in the second. Shortstop Emily Wilson (sophomore, Bondurant, Bondurant-Farrar HS) singled home a run in the third, but a momentum-swinging play ensued. Olson reached on an error and Central’s relentless running game, which has fueled so many memorable wins, turned costly, with two runners getting thrown out trying to advance on the error and subsequent throw.

“That was a coaching error,” Wares said. “That happens if you’re going to play that way, sometimes it goes completely against you and it turned out to be a very big moment in the game.”

Olson (16-5) surrendered six earned runs on 11 hits with two walks and no strikeouts as the Dutch failed to fan any St. Thomas hitters. Fritz was charged with two runs while reliever Annie DeVries (junior, Eldridge, North Scott HS) retired the only batter she faced in the sixth inning.

Central had seven hits, including two by third baseman Lauren Bagby (junior, Norwalk), who also stole a base and scored the team’s second run.

“We’ve been through this before,” Wares said of the eight-run tourney disappointment. “Obviously, it’s not something you expect. If anything, we as coaches felt really good coming into this game. You never know about the mental state, especially since a lot of these players haven’t been through (NCAA tournament games) before. But I think the big thing is that St. Thomas played very well and made some good adjustments at the plate.”

The final margin, while unsightly, matters little, Wares said.

“A loss is a loss,” he said. “You still have to win four to come back.”

Washington-St. Louis is built on dominant pitching, not particularly conducive to launching a four-game Central comeback.

“We told players we can’t look at winning four,” Wares said. “All we can do is look at the first pitch against Wash U. If you start thinking about having to win four, it can get pretty overwhelming.

“But you win one and things start feeling better. That’s all we can do is try to win that first one (Saturday).”

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Posted by on May 12 2017. Filed under College Sports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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