Central notches NCAA win before championship season ends

Central Dutch Athletics

Central Dutch Athletics

PELLA—A remarkable Central College softball season that extended beyond what many anticipated nearly went another step further before an abrupt halt in NCAA Division III tournament play Saturday.

After one of the year’s more disappointing showings in a 10-1 six-inning setback against Lake Forest College (Ill.) in the Pella, Iowa Regional Friday, the Dutch (27-10) rebounded with a 6-1 victory to oust the College of Saint Benedict (Minn.) Saturday before getting ousted by Wis.-La Crosse 5-1.

Wis.-La Crosse (27-18) takes on Lake Forest (26-15) Sunday at 1 p.m. at the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex softball field, with a 3:30 p.m. game, if necessary to follow. Lake Forest needs just one win to claim the title and advance to next weekend’s Super Regional against the University of St. Thomas, which won the St. Paul, Minnesota Regional Saturday.

The Dutch knew they faced perhaps the season’s biggest challenge in needing to win four straight games for the regional title after dropping Friday’s opener, particularly having to ride the arm of pitcher Mariah Fritz (senior, Tama, East Marshall HS) most of the way.

But Fritz did what she needed against Saint Benedict, with one of her most efficient outings of the year. She threw just 79 pitches for the complete-game six-hitter, walking three. That’s after enduring 73 pitches just to get through the first two innings Friday and finishing with 128 over five innings.

She then held Wis.-La Crosse scoreless for the first four innings in Saturday’s second game before yielding a two-run homer in the fifth. But that loomed large as Central had mustered just one through the first five frames.

Yet the Dutch nearly pulled off the type of comeback they have so often. In the sixth inning, they responded swiftly with a leadoff double by catcher Kylie Olson (Mapleton, Minn., Maple River HS).

“She always seems to come up with a big hit,” coach George Wares said.

An infield chopper by center fielder Sara Tallman (junior, Pella) later brought home a run, and following her stolen base, the Dutch had runners at second and third base with no outs. Central was one timely hit away from the lead but came up empty.

“I really think if we score two (there) and we go up, we win the game,” Wares said. “But the momentum went right back to them and, to their credit, they took advantage of it.”

Fritz was laboring and the Eagles tacked on another three runs in the sixth before she was lifted for Danielle Riley (senior, Afton, East Union HS).

Fritz, co-winner of the American Rivers pitcher of the year award, closed with a 20-9 record. She’s the eighth pitcher in school history to reach the 20-win mark and Wares marveled at her work.

“She gave just a phenomenal effort all season and particularly this weekend, to just give us a chance,” he said.

Third baseman Lauren Bagby (senior, Norwalk) had three hits on the day, including a pair against Saint Benedict. Left fielder Shaye Witte (junior, West Des Moines, Waukee HS) lined a pair of doubles and designated player Katie Banowetz (sophomore, Grand Mound, Calamus-Wheatland HS) had a two-run hit. She was forced into the lineup when second baseman Kaitlyn Andresen (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS) was injured Friday.

But the Dutch offensive attack didn’t have its usual high-octane production during the weekend’s three games. Central hit just .192 for the weekend.

“Unfortunately, that happens,” Wares said. “People pitch you a little better and we were a little tight in game one. And obviously losing Andresen hurt us a lot offensively.”

Yet Wares left the field feeling better about his squad’s showing than he did 24 hours earlier.

“I was really pleased we came back and had a much better effort today than we did yesterday,” he said.

And easing the sting of Saturday’s setback was a dizzying regular-season finish that saw Central soar to an American Rivers title after staring at a three-game deficit with just four league games to play. The Dutch followed that by capturing the league tournament title as well.

“I’m still thinking it could have been better but without question it was a good season,” Wares said. “But the beauty of what we are and the beast of what we are is that it ends suddenly and it hurts. You know there was a chance for more and it didn’t happen. But when the hurt goes away, there’s nobody that was a part of this team that should be disappointed with the total package of what we accomplished.”

The Dutch again made a dent in the school record books. Andresen ranks ninth in school history in season on-base percentage (.496). Fritz is tied for sixth in season starts (29) and ninth in innings pitched (172.) Tallman’s stolen base against Wis.-La Crosse was her career 95th, tying Molly Parrott (1999-2002) for second on the all-time list, 19 shy of the school mark set by Daniela Grob (1997-2000). Tallman is 13th on the career hits list with 157 and eighth in career runs with 120. Fritz ranks 14th in career wins with 43 in three seasons and is 13th in career innings pitched with 414.2.

On the team charts, Central’s batting average of .325 ranks seventh all-time.

Witte finished as the season’s top hitter with a .400 mark. Andresen was tops in RBIs with 27 while Tallman scored a team-high 37 runs with 24 stolen bases.

Central graduates six seniors in Bagby, Riley, Fritz, Olson, right fielder Sadie Baugher (Eddyville, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont HS) and pinch-runner Kendra Sexton (Danbury, Maple Valley-Anthon-Oto HS). They accomplished much on the field, including three straight NCAA tournament berths, but left an even bigger mark away from the diamond, Wares said.

“It’s a real solid class,” he said. “I love our seniors. Every class is different and every class is special.”

The nation’s winningest coach finished his 35th season excited about an already promising 2020 campaign, and confident it will bear the fingerprints of this year’s seniors.

“Now you hope all this experience helps (the returning players) and they learn from the leadership of this year’s class so that they can help next year’s players,” he said.

Posted by on May 12 2019. 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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