After a 10-year hiatus, the Central College softball team is making a return trip to the NCAA Division III National Finals. The Dutch punched their ticket yesterday by defeating St. Thomas of Minnesota for the second straight day, this time 2-1 in the championship game of the Pella Regional. Central struck first when senior Rhianna Fleetwood drew a bases loaded walk in the top of the first inning, and the score remained 1-0 until the seventh. The Dutch pushed an insurance run across on a fielders choice, before surrendering a Tommie home run in the bottom of the inning. But as she’s done all tournament long, sophomore ace Mallory Scheulenberg settled back in, and retired the bottom third of the order to clinch the victory.
“Something that set this week apart was just, I felt so relaxed this week. I just went out there and told myself this is fun, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I just relaxed, and I think that really helped me through the week.”
Schuelenberg was named the Regional’s Most Outstanding Player, as she went 4-0 in guiding the Dutch to the championship. Senior catcher Caitlyn Meyer caught every inning this weekend for Central, and was impressed with Scheulenberg’s performance.
“She competed. She commanded the zone, and she challenged those hitters. She said, you know what, I’m going to put it here, you try to hit it – good luck. And, obviously they couldn’t.”
In addition to Scheulenberg, sophomore DP Abbey Strajack was also named to the all-tournament team. A day after going 4-4 against St. Thomas, she went 2-3 yesterday with an intentional walk. Central is now 32-8, and they have a few days to get ready for the National Finals. Coach George Wares feels like the Regional tournament has prepared his team well.
“Obviously the level of competition is going to increase, but I don’t think the intensity is going to be much more than the two games we had against St. Thomas. Beating the people we beat here, and then our league, I know Luther went, that says quite a bit – you’ve got two Iowa Conference schools in the final 8. I think we’ll be there, I’m not going to worry about anything for now, but we’re not going there to go two and out.”
Central will play Montclair St., who also won a regional on their home field by winning four straight. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 Friday night in Eau Claire, Wisconsin – and we’ll have all of the action live on 92.1 FM KRLS and www.kniakrls.com.