Central still standing heading into NCAA softball regional final

Central Dutch Athletics

Central Dutch Athletics

PELLA—Not yet.

Absorbing a staggering blow in a draining 4-3 nine-inning loss to No. 11-ranked Bethel University (Minn.) in the NCAA Division III Regional tourney Friday, the Central College softball team had to take on Grinnell College a couple hours later, with potential elimination and career endings staring the Dutch in the face.

But not yet. Senior pitcher Sydni Huisman (Treynor), no stranger to challenges in her four sometimes bumpy seasons, answered with one or her most dominant performances, blanking Grinnell on one hit through six innings and ultimately helping extend the season at least one more day with 2-1 victory.

“It was a great performance by her and I’m happy that she was able to do it as a senior and try to keep the season going as long as possible,” coach George Wares said.

With the win comes another shot against Bethel (35-3) Saturday at noon at Central’s A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex softball field. A Bethel win sends the Royals into one of eight NCAA Super Regionals next week. A victory for the Dutch (33-10) forces a winner-take-all contest at 2:30 p.m.

That will require toppling one of Division III’s top hurlers, Kayla Simacek, who has thrown nearly every inning for Bethel, posting a 33-3 record with a microscopic 1.05 earned run average. Heading into Friday’s action, Simacek hadn’t even surrendered a run since May 3. So the Dutch triggered some early excitement when they put two runs on the board in the top of the first inning. Second baseman Haley Bach (sophomore, Council Bluffs, Lewis Central HS) eluded the tag at home on a daring double steal and left fielder Megan Doty (senior, Grinnell) followed with an RBI hit.

“That was a great slide by Haley,” Wares said.

And freshman Emma Beck (Holland, Grundy Center HS) seemed up to the task of matching zeros with Simacek, a fifth-year senior. She allowed just one hit in 6.0 innings and struck out six but walked a career-high nine batters, most as a result of numerous illegal pitch calls. She’s elicited a few such calls throughout the season, but there were a blizzard of them Friday.

“It’s on all of us,” Wares said. “It’s something we’ve tried to correct and we’re going to keep trying to correct. But she threw well.”

Three walks contributed to two Bethel third-inning runs to tie it. Central was in position to snatch the win in the seventh as catcher Madison Farrington (senior, Marshalltown, East Marshall HS) doubled and pinch-runner Anya Kistenmacher (sophomore, Holstein, Ridge View HS) stole third, then scampered home when Bach’s catapulted a hit off Simacek’s glove into left field.

But Bethel extended the game in the bottom of the seventhading the bases following a lead-off walk and tying it on a sacrifice fly. Wares cycled through Beck, reliever Morgan Schaben (senior, Portsmouth, Harlan HS), Beck again and finally Huisman but the Royals loaded the bases again in the ninth and again got the sacrifice fly to win it.

Schaben (5-3) gave up a run on two hits in two innings and was charged with the loss.

“(Simacek) is good,” Wares said. “We know that. But you’d like to think if you get three runs, that’s the kind of run production you need against them.”

Central actually outhit the Royals, 5-3, but walked 12 batters overall. Simacek walked only two and struck out 11.

The Dutch peppered Grinnell with 10 hits but produced only two third-inning runs. They got RBI hits from Bach and first baseman Megan Stuhr (junior, Sigourney). That was plenty for Huisman.

“Coach (Alicia) O’Brien talked to her when she was warming up and just said we need everything you’ve got,” Wares said. “And she was really good. She retired 15 straight at one point. She had command in the zone and she was getting ahead. I know it sounds simplistic but there’s a world of difference between 1-0 (count) and 0-1 when you’re trying to get good hitters out.”

Huisman had her shutout spoiled in the seventh inning following a two-out collision in the outfield. That left the potential tying run at third base but Huisman quickly secured the final out.

“I was really happy for her that she kept her composure when they had that mistake and she came right back,” Wares said.

That was Central’s only error and the Dutch defense again sparkled, contributing to Huisman’s efficient performance. In the fourth and fifth innings, shortstop Carson Fisk (senior, Searsboro, Lynnville-Sully HS) made a putout or an assist on five consecutive Grinnell hitters.

“I think our pitchers are very trusting because our defense is making plays,” Wares said. “And Carson Fisk, I’ve said it two or three times now, she’s not just a good shortstop, she’s a really good shortstop.”

Huisman (17-4) finished with a two-hitter, striking out three and walking one.

Bach had two hits and three on the day while also breaking Abbey Strajack’s 2015 school season runs scored record with her 53rd.

The assignment Saturday is a daunting one, but far from the only challenge the Dutch have taken on. They’ll tackle it the way they always do, a pitch at a time.

“We’ve been pretty good at that,” Wares said. “Somebody asked in an interview today, ‘Were you playing like your season was going to be over?’ and Carson (Fisk) said, ‘No, we just play.”

Posted by on May 19 2023. 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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