by Eva Dean Folkert
Senior pitcher Sydney Jones and the Hope College softball team served up a nearly flawless gem on the diamond in their opening round game of the NCAA Division III Softball Championship at Hope's Wolters Stadium on Thursday. The Flying Dutch halted Greenville (Ill.) University's 13-game win streak by besting the Cougars, 8-0, in six innings.
The win moves Hope's record to 30-9 on the year and gives Coach Mary VandeHoef her first 30-win season with the Flying Dutch. Greenville drops to 21-16.
Jones of South Lyon, Michigan (South Lyon East) continues to rack up legendary stats for her mound expertise. Her nine-strikeout, one-hit, shutout win on Thursday gives her 51 career victories, second most in Hope history, and 23 of those wins have been shutouts, a Hope record. She also added to her win total for a single season (17), tying the record she already owns.
Run support came early for Jones. Junior Shay Pinhey of Ann Arbor, Michigan (Pioneer HS) doubled the first pitch of the game off of Greenville's Maegan Stone. Two pitches and two batters later, pinch runner Alex Knorp scored after freshman Jo Cook of Birch Run, Michigan (Birch Run HS) put down a sacrifice bunt on the first pitch she saw to move Knorp to second. Then, senior Hayley Reitsma of Grand Rapids, Michigan (GR Christian HS) slugged a deep sacrifice RBI fly on her first pitch to leftfield. After the first inning, Hope led, 1-0.
"Finding a way to score right away in the first on three pitches with three hitters was nice and efficient in a good way to give us some confidence," said VandeHoef.
"It's always really great as a pitcher to have your offense score early because then you can just kind of settle in and relax and just focus on your pitches and let your defense do the work," Jones concurred.
After two scoreless innings, a five-run bottom of the fourth gave Jones and Hope the cushion it needed. With two outs no less, the Flying Dutch started their hitting barrage after sophomore Amanda Diaz of Mundelein, Illinois (Mundelein HS) reached first on a throwing error. Singles by Pinhey, Cook, and Reitsma and a double by senior Sierra Mutschler of Wayland, Michigan (Wayland HS) helped score Hope's next three runs.
The last two runs of the inning came on a never-a-doubt, centerfield homerun by senior Katie Singer of Howell, Michigan (Hartland HS), pictured, that also scored Mutschler.
"When I go to the plate and I can hear my teammates cheering for me, it kind of gives me the confidence and the momentum to want to score for them," reflected Singer about her homer swing. "Going up to the plate I just kind of really focused on the pitch that I needed to swing at more so than I did previously."
Hope got its last run to end the game with the eight-run mercy rule in the bottom of the sixth. Cook opened the inning with a triple to rightfield and Reitsma, batting next, brought her home on a single.
"Any time you can end it in less than seven, it just helps your pitching staff, it helps with (other) things down the road," said VandeHoef.
In their next NCAA tournament game tomorrow at Hope, the Flying Dutch will face rival Calvin College for the fifth time this season. The Knights were 3-0 winners over Franklin (Ind.) College in Game 1.
Hope vs. Calvin game time on Friday is 9:00 a.m.