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North Central College’s Kulawiak earns career win No. 700

Updated: April 4, 2014 12:08AM

Jim Kulawiak’s 26 seasons as North Central College’s softball coach have been filled with achievements, including eight CCIW championships, 10 NCAA Division III tournament appearances and a fifth-place finish at nationals in 2001.

The latest milestone came Saturday, when the Cardinals swept host Monmouth 11-4 and 5-3. The second-game victory made Kulawiak one of 12 coaches to achieve 700 Division III wins. Since then, No. 22 North Central (14-2) has run that total to 704 by sweeping host Concordia 3-0 and 10-2 on Monday and visiting Beloit 8-2 and 11-3 on Tuesday.

“Obviously you have to have some pretty good players and some good assistants who are willing to make some type of a commitment to the program and the philosophy that you’re trying to lay down,” Kulawiak said of his sustained success.

His most memorable team?

“I think even though we went to the nationals in 2001 and finished fifth, the ’99 team probably was, up to that time, our best all-around team,” he said. “We were solid all the way through with pitching, defense and hitting. We ended up losing two one-run ball games in the regional that year, and I really thought that was a team that had a chance.

“I think our 2001 team did a really good job, and I think by the time we got to the nationals we were a little tired. We’ve had some pretty good teams over the years, and it’s hard to distinguish them.”

This year’s squad has won 11 straight going into Friday’s CCIW-opening doubleheader at home against Illinois Wesleyan.

“We have six juniors, and I think we went through a little bit of learning curve those first two years,” Kulawiak said. “Out [of] that group, two transferred in a year ago, our shortstop, Cecie Portillo, and our first baseman, Kiersten Tinkoff. Our senior pitcher Vlasta Mangia has been very good for us all four years, and she has set the school record for most wins (58). I think we have a little more depth than we’ve had in a while.”

Cougars climbing

Concordia continued its rise in the NCAA Division III baseball rankings after opening NACC play Saturday with a 12-2, 11-6 sweep of Concordia of Wisconsin. The Cougars (14-2, 2-0) moved up three spots to No. 7 in the poll.

Concordia has been led at the plate by sophomore outfielder Colin Bethran (.500 batting average, 14 runs, one home run, seven RBI in 42 at-bats) and junior shortstop Carlos Olavarria (.409, 16 runs, one homer, 14 RBI, 16 at-bats).

The Cougars play two doubleheaders this weekend, at home against Rockford on Saturday and at Marian in Fond du Lac, Wis., on Sunday.

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