Late Central softball rally fizzles in nightcap but O’Brien wins 800th

Central Dutch Athletics

Central Dutch Athletics

TUCSON, ARIZONA—Nearly overcoming a series of obstacles with a scrappy effort, the Central College softball team was left with a split of Sunday’s action at the Tucson Invitational Games as associate head coach Alicia O’Brien notched her 800th career win.

The Dutch (5-3) subdued Gustavus Adolphus College (Minn.) 3-1, then staged a three-run seventh inning rally and had the potential tying runs aboard before faltering against the University of Wis.-La Crosse 8-6.

Central struck for two first-inning runs against Wis.-La Crosse (6-6) as left fielder Shaye Witte (junior, West Des Moines, Waukee HS) and third baseman Kaitlyn Andresen (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS) lined back-to-back run-scoring doubles.

But whatever could go wrong, did, for the next several innings, as Wis.-La Crosse racked up eight runs for an 8-2 lead in the sixth. Senior third baseman Lauren Bagby (Norwalk), a pivotal performer in the early going, was injured while running out a ground ball. Pitcher Danielle Riley (senior, Afton, East Union HS), who relieved starter Mariah Fritz (senior, Tama, East Marshall HS) in the sixth inning, was struck in the leg by a line drive and had to leave the game. And a sixth-inning Dutch rally ended when pinch-runner Kelly Prince (freshman, Linden, Panorama HS) was injured after sliding safely into second base as her foot came off the bag.

“Without oversimplifying it, we had a whole lot of weird things happen,” coach George Wares said. “We tried to respond and we showed a pretty good response in the seventh inning, getting the go-ahead run up at the plate.”

Central was forced to go with a patchwork lineup but still almost pulled off a stunning comeback. Andresen had an RBI hit in the seventh innng as the Dutch used four hits and two Eagles errors for three runs. Central had two runners still aboard when the game ended.

But there’s no easy way to replace a key player.

“Our starting group is really good defensively and, probably like many teams, we’re an injury away from not being as good,” Wares said. “Lauren’s been playing third base as well as anybody in the region, if not the country. Anytime you lose a player of her caliber, you’re not going to be as good. You just try to be as good as you can be and try to find ways to win games while she’s out. Hopefully she’s not out very long.”

Fritz (2-3) had an uncharacteristically bumpy outing, yielding seven runs on 10 hits with a walk and two strikeouts in five innings. Riley only faced two hitters before being injured and Lauren Shirley (junior, Queen Creek, Ariz., Seton Catholic HS) gave up two hits in two scoreless innings.

Central was outhit 13-9. Andresen and catcher Kylie Olson (senior, Mapleton, Minn., Maple River HS) each had two hits.

The win over Gustavus Adolphus was a smoother ride. Central was on the brink of squandering a bases-loaded, no-outs chance in the second inning when right fielder Sadie Baugher (senior, Eddyville, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont HS) lined a two-out, two-strike pitch into left field for a two-run hit.

“That was huge,” Wares said. “Sadie’s probably playing as well as she’s played since she’s been at Central. That was a great at-bat and throughout the day she made some really good defensive plays.”

The Dutch added a run in the third when center fielder Sara Tallman (junior, Pella) doubled and scored.

Riley (3-0) threw 5.1 innings, allowing a run on six hits with two strikeouts and no walks. Fritz was sharp in relief, with 1.2 hitless innings, striking out two.

“Danielle’s improved a lot,” Wares said. “That was one of the biggest positives of the day, how she threw. And I thought Mariah (Fritz) came in and finished the game as well as she has in her career. That’s a hard thing for a starter to do but she was really good in that spot.”

Central was outhit 6-4, but sparkled in the field while the Golden Gusties committed four errors. Andresen made a diving stab to grab a line drive at second base and Baugher made a leaping grab in right field.

O’Brien wins 800th—O’Brien, who joined the Central staff in 2006, reached the 800-win mark in Sunday’s opener. She was an 18-year head coach at Western Connecticut State University, leading the Colonials to eight NCAA Division III tournament berths before gaining eight more berths at Central. She’s posted an 800-354-3 (.692) career mark.

O’Brien wasn’t even aware of the milestone until fans began waving celebratory signs after the game.

“When I say we’ve got two head coaches, I really mean that,” Wares said. “Even more than the 800 is seeing that the players, fans and alumni here were so excited. I know they have an appreciation for how much she brings to the program.”

Several former Central players have attended the team’s games in Tucson and many others continue to reach out with congratulations to O’Brien and support for the current squad, Wares said.

“We have a really good softball program and there are a lot of reasons,” he said. “And I think that’s a big part of it. This goes way beyond the current team. There are a whole lot of people who are a big part of this.”

Central has a day off before returning to action in Tucson Tuesday morning against highly regarded Texas-Dallas at 9 a.m. (Pacific Time) and MacMurray College (Ill.). Texas-Dallas is 9-8 while MacMurray begins play in Tucson Monday with a 0-2 record.

“We’re just going to try to win as many games as we can out here, then get back, get healthy and get ready for the (American Rivers) Conference,” Wares said.

Posted by on Mar 17 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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