Memorable Central softball season ends at NCAA tourney

PELLA—The pitching flashed. The defense dazzled. But the Central College softball team couldn’t muster the run it needed in a season-ending 1-0 loss to Bethel University (Minn.) in the NCAA Division III Pella, Iowa Regional title match-up Saturday.

Bethel (36-3) advances to next week’s NCAA Super Regional against Linfield University (Ore.), at a site to be determined.

Bethel’s all-America hurler Kayla Simacek had a big say in the outcome. Central (33-11) had generated a bit of offense in a 4-3 loss to the Royals Friday but outside of a 3-for-3 eruption by second baseman Haley Bach (sophomore, Council Bluffs, Lewis Central HS), Dutch hitters were stymied. First baseman Megan Stuhr (junior, Sigourney) was the only other Dutch player with a hit and coach George Wares couldn’t prod a runner beyond second base.

“To (Simacek’s) credit, she went right back to what she was before we scored three against her,” Wares said. “She shuts people out.”

That shines an even brighter light on Bach’s remarkable effort. She raised her average to a team-high .418, after breaking the school season runs scored record with her 53rd run Friday. Bach also drew a team-best 32 walks and had a .544 on-base percentage.

“To do it against who she did it against today, she was seeing the ball so well, she was not chasing pitches out of the zone and she got us going a couple of times,” Wares said. “No criticism of anybody else, we just couldn’t get that hit we needed.”

Bach was among three Central players on the all-tournament team, joined by pitcher Sydni Huisman (senior, Treynor) and shortstop Carson Fisk (senior, Searsboro, Lynnville-Sully HS).

Pitcher Emma Beck (freshman, Holland, Grundy Center HS) matched Simacek’s dominance in the early going, striking out four batters in the first two innings. Bethel was held hitless until getting a two-out single in the fourth inning before finally bringing home the game’s only run with a two-out double in the fifth.

Beck threw 5.1 innings, allowing three hits and striking out six but walking five as she was again called for multiple illegal pitches, although well short of the 13 called in her game against Bethel Friday.

“She needs to get (the illegal pitches) corrected but there’s a bright future there,” Wares said.

Huisman threw a scoreless inning of relief. She was 2-0 for the weekend and had the tourney’s lowest earned run average of 0.66 as she yielded one earned run over 13.2 innings.

“I was happy with Sydni being on the all-tournament team,” Wares said. “I thought she pitched really well in the Grinnell games, and today she came in and gave us exactly what we needed, and Morgan Schaben (senior, Portsmouth, Harlan HS)did, too. Just get us a couple of outs and hope to score and go to game two.”

Schaben faced just one hitter but recorded the final two outs of the seventh inning with a double play. Fisk put an exclamation mark on her defensive wizardry at shortstop in the tournament, racing into short left field to make a leaping grab of a line drive ticketed for extra bases. She then wheeled and doubled off a Bethel base runner who was scrambling back to second base. Bach took the throw at second base and then slammed the ball to the dirt to punctuate Central’s final defensive play of 2023.

It all left even Wares stumbling for words.

“That play that Carson made, I mean, that’s just who she is now,” he said. “There are way too many plays to say best and all of that, but it’s one of the top 10 defensive plays I’ve seen. For her to leap and time it, then go get the double play, that was a big one because we didn’t want it to get to 3-0 or 4-0 where we probably had no shot.”

But what shot the Dutch were left with still couldn’t extend the season for another day. And Wares was left facing perhaps the stiffest challenge he deals with every year, addressing teary-eyed players in the outfield following the season’s often abrupt end.

“You walk out there and you literally don’t know what to say because it feels like your heart’s been ripped out,” he said. “I’m not going to compare it to things that are obviously more important, but you invest a lot with each other and you go through so much together that people don’t see to get to this point and then, just like that it’s done. But I’m happy with how we played. I thought our players represented well.”

And it felt good just to be there, Wares said, following his team’s record 31st NCAA tourney appearance, but first since 2019.

“It was a great regional tournament and all the games were extremely competitive,” he said. “Our players, this is why they’re here. They want to play in games like this. And I think it was really good to get back to this again. Now we’ve got other people who can talk about it to new players. And we saw a ton of alumni players here and from a coaching standpoint, that’s always special. And I think the alumni are pretty proud of how this team represented the program.”

There were seven seniors on the team, including Huisman, Schaben, Fisk, center fielder Emma Johnson (Davenport, Assumption Catholic HS), catcher Madison Farrington (Marshalltown, East Marshall HS), center fielder/pinch-runner Makenna Hall (Keokuk, Central Lee HS) and left fielder Megan Doty (Grinnell). Some are still weighing decisions about returning for the extra season the NCAA has granted due to the pandemic they had to endure.

“Regardless of who does or doesn’t come back, I’m so happy that they could finally experience what we told them it was all about,” Wares said. “At least they’ll have that memory of this year. I hope we get all of them back but, either way, they’ll have that memory of, yeah, this is what it’s supposed to be. Our program is back to what we call our normal, which are lofty expectations. They led the way to help us get back to that point.”

The seniors are among several Dutch players making a dent in the school record book. Schaben tied a season mark for saves (5) while Johnson is among multiple past players who have posted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. She’s fourth in career fielding percentage at Central (.988) with just two errors in her career and none since 2021. Bach’s 32 walks this season rank second on the all-time charts and her 56 hits are tied for fourth. Third baseman Franie Burnett (junior, Ankeny, Centennial HS) moved up to 11th on the career RBI list (95) while Stuhr is 11th in career putouts (717).

Wares completed his 39th season at Central with a career mark of 1,232-437-3, making him the winningest coach in Division III history. Yet the taste of the playoffs, combined with the talent returning, has him as enthused as his players about the season ahead.

“We’ve already talked about, ok, in three months we get to go again (for fall workouts),” Wares said. “If you don’t have that (passion), that ‘Who do we need to recruit?,’ ‘What do we need to do to get better?,” then you probably shouldn’t do it.”

NCAA Division III Pella, Iowa Regional All-Tournament Team

Most Outstanding Player – P, Kayla Simacek, Bethel (Minn.)

3B – Jordyn McCormack, Wis.-La Crosse

3B – Samantha Chu, Grinnell

LF – Allie Fauth-Kilgore, Bethel (Minn.)

1B – Madi O’Brien, Wis.-La Crosse

2B – Haley Bach, Central

2B – Alexa Okada, Grinnell

DP – Sidney Bartels, Bethel (Minn.)

SS – Carson Fisk, Central

P – Sydni Huisman, Central

Posted by on May 21 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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