DECORAH, Iowa -- Like many of the 999 wins that preceded it under coach George Wares, Central won this one with grit.
The No. 11 Dutch (23-5 overall, 3-1 Iowa Conference) overcame three errors and found a way to outlast No. 5-rankedLuther 6-5 after dropping the opener 4-3, allowing Wares to become the first softball coach in NCAA Division III history to reach 1,000 wins. In his 30th season at Central, Wares has compiled a mark of 1,000-327-3, with four Division III national championships and 25 NCAA tournament berths along the way.
Sophomore pitcher Trisha Smith improved to 10-0 but had to battle to nail it down. Luther’s Miranda McKay hit a one-out homer in the seventh inning and the Norse got a couple of two-out hits before shortstop Annie Sarcone snagged a hard-hit grounder and got the force at third base to secure the win.
Wares was far more concerned with the effect Tuesday’s games would have on the conference race than on coaching milestones, which he viewed as a distraction. But he also expressed gratitude for those who have made the unprecedented success possible.
“I’m glad to have it out of the way,” he said. “Obviously it’s something I share with a lot of people over the years, from current players and coaches to those that preceded them as well as a lot of administrators over the years.”
Luther (17-5 overall, 2-2 conference) was in position for an important sweep after all-conference pitcher Becca Girvan delivered the game one win. She struck out nine Central batters and through five innings had limited the Dutch to just two hits—a bloop single and an infield hit, both by third baseman Whitney Sowers. But Girvan walked five batters and hit two more, and Central took advantage of two errors.
Second baseman Abbey Strajack led off the game with a walk and later scored on an error for an early 1-0 lead, but Luther’s Kelsey Rose belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the first and the Norse never trailed again. Designated player Karlee Rock drew two walks that led to Central’s other runs but the Dutch couldn’t get the game-tying hit.
Luther outhit Central 9-5. Strajack and Sowers each had two hits. Mallory Schulenberg pitched the first 2.1 innings and took the loss, dropping to 8-4. But Brie Haycraft kept the Dutch in it with one of her best outings of the season, giving up a run on five hits in 3.2 innings, walking one and striking out one.
“I thought we had some great opportunities but (Becca Girvan) is really tough with runners on base,” Wares said.
Luther jumped on top in gae two as well, scoring a first-inning run. And Central’s frustration continued in the second inning, coming up empty after putting runners on first and third with no outs.
But when the first two runners again reached in the third, the Dutch capitalized. Sowers and Sarcone delivered RBI hits and grabbed a 3-1 lead. Central expanded the gap to 6-1 with three runs in the fifth and looked to be in command. A run-scoring single by pinch-hitter Abby Voas highlighted the frame.
Luther returned the favor with three runs in the bottom of the inning, however, setting the stage for the tense finish.
Smith yielded nine hits but had no walks while striking out five. Only two of Luther’s five runs were earned as the Dutch committed three errors. Strajack and Sowers again had two hits for Central.
“It seemed like we had the game under control, but to Luther’s credit, they battled back and had the winning run on first base,” Wares said. “They were hitting the ball hard off Trish but we wanted to let her finish the game and fortunately the last hard hit was right to Sarcone.”
But Wares did take a moment to reflect on what it takes to win 1,000 games.
“You’ve got to love it,” he said. “As I’ve said before, but I’m not overstating it, there are a lot of really special people beyond the players and coaches. Also, the fact that we’ve had great administrative support means we’ve been able to take some trips that I’m sure some other Division III schools can’t and that’s allowed us to play a higher caliber schedule. Because of that, we’ve been able to attract some very good players. Even though we didn’t always play very well today, we have some outstanding players on this year’s team. And you need a great coaching staff like we have, and a desire to keep it going.
“Now we shoot for 1,001 and go from there.”