PELLA – First-time NCAA Division III qualifier Cornell pushed postseason veteran Central to the limit Thursday night before dropping a 1-0 eight-inning heartbreaker to the 16th-ranked Dutch in a rain-plagued first-round regional softball game at A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex.
Central (29-8) ended the epic battle with a two-out, two-strike hit to the warning track in right field, scoring the winning run from third base. It was just the second hit of the game against Cornell ace Jackie Sernek, who allowed just two base runners through seven innings.
The Rams (23-15) move into the consolation bracket to face 25th-ranked Augustana (29-12) at 12 p.m. Friday in an elimination game. Augustana also lost a tough one earlier in the day, 5-2, to Fontbonne on a sixth-inning grand slam.
Cornell had chances to crack through late in the game against second-seeded Central, a team with 85 NCAA wins. The Rams missed an opportunity in the top of the sixth with runners on first and third and one out.
The Rams threatened again in the seventh. Junior Abby Haubold led off with a single to left – Cornell's lone hit of the game – and pinch runner Katherine Taylor advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kari Martin. A Rebekah Ozga walk, followed by a wild pitch, put Cornell runners at second and third with one out.
Then the rains came down, causing a 15-minute delay and ultimately halting momentum. When play resumed, Renata Rankin drew an intentional walk to load the bases. Central wriggled out of the jam with a ground-ball force-out at the plate and then an inning-ending strikeout.
Sernek retired the Dutch in order in the bottom of the seventh, and then came another brief rain delay before the teams went out for the eighth.
The Dutch caught a break in the bottom of the eighth when leadoff batter Heidi Reburn was hit by a pitch. She was bunted over to second and then stole third with two outs. Katie Canney brought home the winning run, driving a 2-2 pitch to deep right field that landed untouched.
Sernek (13-4) faced just one batter over the minimum through seven innings. She gave up a two-out single in the second, and issued a two-out walk in the fifth. Sernek finished with four strikeouts.
The Rams left seven runners on base, four in scoring position. Cornell played errorless ball in the field, while the Dutch had three errors.