PELLA, Iowa — Central College’s George Wares has now won more softball games than any coach in NCAA Division III history, but Sunday night marked the first time he’s ever had the gamewinner score on an eighth-inning bunt double.

After eliminating Anderson (Ind.) from the NCAA Division III Pella Regional 3-2 Sunday afternoon, the No. 5 Dutch (38-8) added another line to the roll call of improbable finishes that have made Wares’ 27-year ride so memorable, with a stirring 5-2 eight-inning, comeback victory against No. 16 Wisconsin-Whitewater (28-12). Central scored five runs in the final two innings to rally for the win. The game was played at Pella High School’s lighted field in an effort to get the rain-delayed tourney back on track.

That set up a rematch with Iowa Conference rival No. 7 Coe College, which the Dutch won 7-3. Linfield then eliminated the Dutch 12-0 in five innings on Monday afternoon to take the regional crown.

Wares surpassed the late Donna Newberry of Muskingum (Ohio) on the all-time wins list. Newberry compiled a 906-419-1 record across 36 years (1975 to 2010). With one more win Monday before bowing out of the tournament, Ware now has 909 victories in his career.

Sunday night’s tilt with Wisconsin-Whitewater didn’t look like it would even reach the eighth inning.

Warhawk ace Jessica Stang (21-7) dominated Washington U. at St. Louis in a 2-1 victory in 14 innings -- the final nine of which were played early Sunday afternoon after the game was suspended because of rain Saturday. And she continued churning out scoreless innings against Central in seemingly effortless fashion. The Dutch lost two runners at the plate in the third inning and trailed 2-0 in the seventh inning. Central put a pair of runners on base in the seventh on a hit batter and a walk, but was down to what could have been its final out of 2011 when designated player Rachael Everingham rocketed a two-run double off the left-centerfield fence to tie the game.

Wisconsin-Whitewater then loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the seventh, and pitcher Kiley Lythberg was a ball away from walking in the winning run. Instead she induced a pop foul, followed by a strikeout and a blast to deep center field that was snagged by Holly Von Fumetti to force extra innings.

“That was an excellent effort by Kiley,” Wares said .”The best pitch she made was against the catcher [Emily Epifanio]. She’s a real tough out.”
After a walk and a groundout left pinch-runner Heidi Reburn standing on second base in the eighth inning, Wares flashed the bunt sign to Lythberg, who pushed it past the pitcher and charging second baseman. It rolled to the outfield grass as Reburn sprinted home with the go-ahead run and Lythberg steamed into second base.

“We had a bunt-and-run on, hoping to make something happen,” Wares said. “That’s something Kiley’s very good at and she placed it perfectly. I felt pretty confident that even if she was out, one of our next hitters could bring home the run from third.”
Catcher Caitlyn Meyer followed with an RBI single and shortstop Annie Sarcone ripped a run-scoring double to left to push the lead to 5-2 in favor of Central.

Wisconsin-Whitewater created a few more anxious moments in the bottom of the eighth, putting two runners aboard after two outs, but Lythberg ended the suspense with a strikeout.

Lythberg (19-6), gave up a pair of solo home runs to third baseman Lauren Rankins among seven hits, walking four and striking out seven. Stang limited Central to six hits, four of which came in the final two innings.

Against Anderson (29-15), Central saw an early 2-0 lead evaporate in the third inning. The Dutch got an unearned run in the first inning, then added a tally on a run-scoring hit by Von Fumetti.
In the fourth, Von Fumetti made a pair of diving catches in the top of the inning, then scored the go-ahead run on a hit by left fielder Bethany Koskamp.

Pitcher Brie Haycraft got the win in relief of Rhianna Fleetwood. Haycraft (9-2) yielded just a hit and a walk in 3.1 innings while recording three strikeouts.

But it was Sunday night’s thriller that will be lodged firmly in the team’s collective memory bank. Wares savored watching his jubilant players stream onto the field just as they have so many times in other seasons. And he said he’ll remember the game more than the record he set earlier in the day.