DeVries, Dutch pitch their way back to NCAA softball regional title round

Central Dutch Athletics

Central Dutch Athletics

ST. PAUL, MINN.—It was a pitching dice roll but coach George Wares and the Central College softball team came up winners to scramble their way into the title round of the NCAA Division III St. Paul Regional Friday.

Three Dutch pitchers allowed only one run in two games as Annie DeVries (senior, Eldridge, North Scott HS) preserved a 2-1 elimination-game victory over Northwestern-St. Paul (Minn.), then tossed a masterful one-hit, 2-0 shutout to eliminate hard-hitting Wis.-Oshkosh on a frosty, sunless afternoon in Minnesota.

That advances 23rd-rated Central (29-11) into a noon Saturday match-up with the regional top seed and host, No. 7 St. Thomas (Minn.). A St. Thomas victory in the opener sends the Tommies (37-6) to next weekend’s NCAA Division III Super Regional. A Central win forces a deciding final game at 2:30 p.m.

Looking for a path to four NCAA tournament wins in two days after getting staggered with a 5-2 opening-round loss to Wis.-Oshkosh, Wares took what many would say was a long shot, starting No. 3 pitcher Danielle Riley (junior, Afton, East Union HS) Friday against Northwestern-St. Paul. A junior varsity hurler for two years, Riley had only thrown 14 innings all season, including just 0.1 innings since March 30. Wares said he leaned on the counsel of associate head coach Alicia O’Brien, who took Western Connecticut State University to eight NCAA tournaments as head coach prior to teaming with Wares at Central. He also sought input from Central’s pitchers.

They agreed starting Riley was maybe an unlikely choice, but facing daunting odds, Wares said it was the only one.

“We just felt like Danielle gave us our best chance,” Wares said. “We had Plan B ready but Danielle was really good and if we would happen to end up winning this thing tomorrow, I would argue she would be a big part of the reason because she helped keep the pitch count as low as we can (for the other pitchers).

“That’s one of those where we made the decision and said, everything being considered, it’s the right call. And if they score five runs in the first inning, it’s still the right call. We weren’t going to second-guess ourselves after the fact.”

Thrust onto the NCAA tournament stage, Riley coolly scattered five hits in 3.1 innings, giving up only an unearned run while walking none and striking out three.

“I was really happy with how she pitched and it was really good for her to be able to have some meaningful innings like that after she’s not pitched for quite a while,” Wares said.

Mariah Fritz (junior, Tama, East Marshall HS) followed with 2.0 innings of one-hit relief and was credited with the win, improving to 13-8. DeVries followed, yielding one hit over the final 1.2 innings to record her second save. It was the seventh save of her career, moving her into fifth on Central’s all-time list.

Wis.-Oshkosh (26-14) pounded out 11 hits against Central Thursday, but the Titans were routed by St. Thomas, 9-1, earlier Friday and then DeVries delivered the knockout blow. Largely a back-up or No. 2 option throughout her career, DeVries pitched like an ace, yielding a leadoff single to open the game followed by seven innings of no-hit ball. She walked one and struck out one.

“That was arguably the best total game of her career and it came at an opportune time,” Wares said.

Central mustered just enough offense. They scored in the first two innings against Northwestern-St. Paul as catcher Emily Walton (senior, Cedar Rapids, Jefferson HS) and first baseman Amanda Sigulas (sophomore, Morton, Ill.) delivered RBI singles. The Dutch had only five hits, including two by Walton.

Central struck early against Wis.-Oshkosh as well. Center fielder Sara Tallman (sophomore, Pella) used her speed to reach first on a bobbled grounder and scored on a hit by left fielder Tabitha Taylor (senior, Grimes, Dallas Center-Grimes HS). Then Taylor tripled in the third, aggressively rounded the bag and raced home after drawing an errant throw. Taylor had two hits and reached base six times in two games with Wis.-Oshkosh. Central had six hits Friday against the Titans, including a pair by second baseman Paige Dickel (senior, Norwalk).

It was a precarious lead against a club like Wis.-Oshkosh, but with DeVries in the circle, it was plenty.

“You never think it’s enough, but once we got the second run I felt pretty confident because of the effectiveness of Annie,” Wares said. “And we were getting a lot of first-pitch outs so pitch count wasn’t a major concern.”

The Dutch defense played an outsized role as well. With the exception of a misplayed hit that turned into a run by Northwestern-St. Paul, Wares liked what he saw. The tandem of third baseman Lauren Bagby (junior, Norwalk) and shortstop Daria Parchert (freshman, Illinois City, Ill., Rockridge HS) had a busy day.

“Lauren, I don’t even think about anymore, she’s just good,” Wares said. “She’s arguably as good as any third baseman I’ve seen. Daria’s a good one. She made some really big-time plays defensively, in the second game, particularly. Our whole left side made some huge plays today.”

Wares said Taylor made one bad defensive decision in left field but has otherwise sparkled.

“For two days, Tab has been really on,” he said. “She’s had very good at-bats for the most part and has played a solid left field for us. Our whole outfield has played well.”

It was a reassuring recovery from a disappointing opening day for the Dutch. But while they’re halfway to the needed four wins, Saturday’s road will be even more demanding in attempting to sweep the powerhouse Tommies.

“(Coach John Tschida) does a phenomenal job,” Wares said. “It’s an uphill battle. They’re ranked No. 7 in the country for a reason and they’re the No. 1 seed in our region for a reason. But we can be pretty good, too. So we just have to take the first pitch and not worry about game two but see if we can find a way to get game one and turn it around. We’re happy to be in this position and our goal now is to do whatever we can tomorrow to get a couple wins.”

And if requires a few more dice rolls, the Dutch won’t be afraid to try.

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Posted by on May 13 2018. 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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