Central College’s hopes of expanding a remarkable NCAA Division III softball legacy may ride on a thin but experienced pitching staff.

Junior Mariah Fritz and senior Annie DeVries are the only hurlers on the Dutch roster who’ve thrown a varsity pitch and they’ll throw a lot of them in 2018. But six position starters return, including a pair of all-Midwest Region picks, from a 32-10 club that made Central’s record 28th NCAA tournament appearance in 31 seasons.

Hall of Fame coach George Wares said his pitchers are positioned to surprise, after initially viewing pitching as an area of concern following last season. Plenty of veterans, some high-impact recruits and an upgrade on defense means that while good pitching remains the need, there’s not a demand for greatness.

The team’s traditional trip to the Tucson (Ariz.) Invitational Games will be extended as the elite NFCA Division III Leadoff Classic is staged there for the first time. The Dutch will face six of Division III’s top teams in three days in the Leadoff Classic, starting with 2017 national tourney finalist Trine (Ind.)., before 10 more contests while in Tucson. Hear action Friday through Sunday KNIAKRLS.com on the KNIA2 stream.