DECORAH — In the unusual position of trying to claw its way into the six-team American Rivers tournament, the Central College softball team got the pitching performances it needed Saturday in splitting a league doubleheader at Luther College.
A run in the seventh inning gave Luther (18-12 overall, 5-7 conference) a 1-0 walk-off win in the opener, spoiling a shutout bid by pitcher Morgan Schaben (junior, Portsmouth, Harlan HS). But Sydni Huisman (junior, Treynor) came back with a three-hitter in the second game for a 2-0 win that moved the Dutch (18-16 overall, 6-8 conference) percentage points ahead of Luther in the conference standings.
Coach George Wares made the necessity of that win clear to his squad.
“We didn’t hold anything back between games,” he said. “We basically said, ‘Hey, if we want a shot to get into the tournament, we’ve got to win this one.’ And like so many times, they’ve responded.”
Schaben (11-10) scattered eight hits but squirmed out of trouble until the seventh inning of the opener when the Norse got a walk and three hits from the first four hitters to end it. Central was limited to just three hits as senior pitcher Kendra Cooper walked two and struck out five in seven innings.
“That was a really good performance by their pitcher,” Wares said. “Morgan (Schaben) definitely threw well enough for us to win.”
Central had 10 hits in the first four innings before Luther brought Cooper back for the final three frames. Yet the Dutch had no extra base hits and mustered just two runs.
“When you look up and you have two runs on nine hits after four innings, it’s kind of concerning,” he said. “We just couldn’t get the big hit.”
Center fielder Emma Johnson (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS), the league’s top hitter, had three more hits in the game as did right fielder Franie Burnett (sophomore, Ankeny, Centennial HS) while first baseman Megan Stuhr (sophomore, Sigourney) had two hits. Johnson is hitting .482 for the season and Burnett is batting .427.
Huisman (2-3) walked one and struck two, facing just 25 hitters in seven innings.
“Sydni pitched really well and we made some really good defensive plays behind her. The catch by Johnson (in center field) to start the game was one of the better catches that we’ve seen.”
Luther’s best shot came in the sixth inning after loading the bases with one out. A deep fly ball to left fielder Megan Doty (junior, Grinnell) looked like it would be good for a sacrifice and a Norse run but the baserunner at third base was called out for leaving the base early, resulting in an inning-ending double play.
“That was big,” Wares said. “Being up two runs going into the bottom of the seventh feels a lot better than 2-1.”
The victory snapped a five-game Dutch losing streak, their longest since 1998.
“It was a huge win for a lot of reasons,” Wares said. “It obviously keeps us alive for the tournament but from a morale standpoint, it’s nice to get that losing streak stopped and now have a little time to rest.”
Central gets a short break, returning to action Thursday with a non-conference doubleheader at Grinnell College starting at 3 p.m. The time off is especially welcome after the Dutch trekked to Lincoln, Nebraska and Storm Lake Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, before heading to Decorah Saturday for a third league road doubleheader in five days.
“It feels like we’ve been on the road forever,” Wares said. “It’s probably the most grueling week we’ve had. But it’s nobody’s fault. We had to do what we did.”