CEDAR RAPIDS — The sequel mirrored the original but even with another poised performance from freshman pitcher Emma Beck (Holland, Grundy Center HS), the Central College softball couldn’t rewrite the ending as Luther College walked off a 1-0 American Rivers tourney semifinal win Saturday.
The No. 23-ranked Norse (32-7) advance to the tourney title game against Wartburg College, an upset winner over top-seeded host Coe College earlier Saturday. The title contest was pushed back to Sunday after Saturday’s action was delayed by rain. The tourney winner receives an automatic bid to the 62-team NCAA Division III tournament while the loser will join Central (31-9) and No. 18 Coe (31-8) as both hopeful yet not certain of receiving an at-large berth. The field will be announced at noon Monday via ncaa.com.
Saturday’s game marked the third time in 10 days that Luther and pitcher Kendra Cooper toppled No. 22 Central. Cooper and Beck dueled in another 1-0 game at Pella May 3 after Central dropped the opener of that day’s doubleheader 6-2. Cooper (21-3) extended her scoreless innings streak against the Dutch to 15 innings Saturday and the fifth-year senior seemed to have only grown sharper since the previous meeting. She limited Central to two hits and two walks while striking out seven, not allowing a baserunner to advance beyond first base.
“She just continued her domination against us so give her a lot of credit,” coach George Wares said “But also give our players credit. We battled, Emma Beck threw well and we made some defensive plays. But (Cooper) just got us again.”
Three times Beck was faced with the bases loaded and one out. Twice she wriggled free and in the seventh inning was on the brink of doing so again until Sydney Schultz beat out a two-out infield hit to bring home the game’s only run.
Central got a pair of singles from right fielder Emma Jensen (sophomore, Earlham) but that was the extent of the offense.
Beck (10-3) scattered nine hits over 6.2 innings. She walked five batters, although four were intentional, and struck out four.
Wares saw much he liked in the tourney from Central, which blanked Nebraska Wesleyan 1-0 in Friday’s first-round game.
“It was a tough loss but we had two games with really good atmospheres that were throwback pitcher’s duels,” he said.
It’s the kind of game past Dutch teams have endured in numerous NCAA tournament games and should serve the squad well, if it gets the chance.
“We’re playing well in a lot of ways,” Wares said. “We’ve just got to figure out a few more things offensively.”
And Central has been without a big part of that offense recently. Center fielder Emma Johnson (senior, Davenport, Assumption Catholic HS), the team’s second-leading hitter, was sidelined for the previous meetings with Luther. Saturday she appeared as a designated player and played a few innings in center field but was limited. But Makenna Hall (senior, Keokuk, Central Lee HS) continues to fill in capably on defense as the Dutch again played errorless ball.
“Makenna has just been really solid,” he said. “She’s not just making the routine plays but a little bit beyond as well. So, yeah, we’re really happy with our defense and our pitching from Sydni (Huisman, senior, Treynor), Morgan (Schaben, senior, Portsmouth, Harlan HS) and Emma (Beck). If we get that kind of pitching from those three, play that kind of defense and go in saying, ‘Hey, we’ve just got to figure out a way score two or three runs,’ that makes you feel pretty good.”
Central is hoping for its first NCAA Division III tournament appearance since 2019. The Dutch have had 30 NCAA berths under Wares, winning four national titles.
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