Hall double propels Central to NCAA softball win

PELLA—A player who’s waited her entire career to just see the field delivered the blow that gave the Central College softball team the NCAA Division III tournament win it’s waited 10 years to secure.

Center fielder Makenna Hall (senior, Keokuk, Central Lee HS), a late-season addition to the starting lineup, roped her first career double to drive in two runs in the fourth inning of Central’s 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Grinnell College Thursday in an NCAA Division III Regional. It’s Central’s first opening-day tournament victory since 2013.

The win sends the No. 22-ranked Dutch (32-9) into a Friday matchup with No. 11 Bethel University (Minn.) (34-3), a 2-0 winner in Thursday’s first game over the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Grinnell and Wis.-La Crosse clash in an elimination game at 1:30 p.m. while the loser of the Bethel-Central game takes on the Grinnell-Wis.-La Crosse winner in another elimination game at 4 p.m. The tourney concludes Saturday.

Hall, a transfer who saw limited duty as a pinch-runner through most of her career, was inserted into the lineup following an injury to the team’s second-leading hitter, Emma Johnson (senior, Davenport, Assumption HS). But when she came up with two runners aboard in the fourth inning, coach George Wares said there was no thought of opting for a pinch-hitter because of the confidence he has in her to find a way to get the job done.

“She’s only been with us a couple of years, but she has really bought into what we are and that you do what you can to help when you can,” said Wares. “Even when she wasn’t playing as a regular, she gave us some really good efforts as a pinch-runner.”

But Hall’s dramatic hit was not one that either player or coach will soon forget.

“I’ve had a lot of really fun moments but to see her do that; she’s a pretty conservative person but she was jumping up and down at second base, and the look she gave her teammates was pretty special,” Wares said.

While Central is making a record 31st NCAA tourney appearance, it’s the first for Grinnell (29-13), but the Pioneers played like veterans in taking an early lead with two runs in the second inning, capitalizing on an errant Central throw on a run-scoring hit. The Dutch halved the lead in the bottom of the frame on an RBI single from right fielder Emma Jensen (Earlham).

Central mustered just four hits in the game but continued making home run plays with the gloves. Third baseman Franie Burnett (junior, Ankeny, Centennial HS) made a diving play in crashing into the third base fence to nab a foul pop in the first inning and Carson Fisk (senior, Searsboro, Lynnville-Sully HS) sparkled again at shortstop. In the fifth inning she ranged deep into the hole and unleased a long throw to first to steal a hit from Taylor Durak, producing a roar from the sun-splashed overflow crowd at the A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex softball field.

“Carson made a couple of other plays up the middle that she has started to make look easy and we take it for granted,” Wares said. “She is just playing at an elite level defensively.”

There were still some anxious moments in the sixth inning, when two hitters reached with one out against pitcher Sydni Huisman (senior, Treynor). But as they’ve done throughout the year, the Dutch turned to reliever Morgan Schaben (senior, Portsmouth, Harlan HS). Schaben flashed some previously well-hidden leaping ability to snag a bunt that was popped over her head before she retired the next hitter to squirm free from the jam. She nailed down her fifth save in the seventh inning, tying Corrie Schmidt’s 2003 school season record.

Huisman (16-4) went 5.1 innings, allowing one earned run on four hits, striking out four and walking five, although two were intentional. Schaben threw 1.2 innings of hitless relief, allowing one walk.

Central was 0-6 in opening-round NCAA tournament games since a 1-0 win over Cornell College in 2013 and the Dutch were making their first tourney appearance since 2019, before any current players were on the squad.

“It’s hard to win (in the tournament) and when you haven’t done it like these players have not, you don’t really have anything to tap into, so it was big,” Wares said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to beat Bethel, we’re going to have to play really well to do that, but I think it clearly says that now maybe not only do we as coaches think our players belong but now they probably think they belong.”

The Dutch will have to face one of the nation’s top hurlers in senior Kayla Simacek, who struck out nine in raising her record to 32-3 in the shutout of Wis.-La Crosse Friday. Runs will likely be precious.

“I guess one thing is, that’s kind of how we play no matter who we play,” Wares said. “We know we’re going to have to hold the other team to one or two runs and definitely not much more than that. We just need to keep pitching and playing defense and hope to catch a break somewhere to score a couple runs against, if not the best, definitely one of the best, strikeout pitchers in the country.”

Posted by on May 18 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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