Softball tries for 10 in a row

BY JON LINDER | MARCH 24, 2009 7:30 AM

The Iowa softball team (26-5) looks to push its current win streak to double digits this afternoon when Division II’s William Penn visits Pearl Field. The nine-game stretch — which started with an 11-3 knockout of Cornell in five innings on March 14 — is the longest of the season.

The Statesmen (14-10) are currently tied for first in the Midwest Collegiate Conference with Iowa Wesleyan. Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins has emphasized that no matter what level of competition, the Hawkeyes need to play with same mindset.

“We try to play Iowa softball every game out,” she said. “William Penn is going to play tough. They’ll come in and play inspired.”

Iowa saw some inspired play of its own this weekend in a home double-header with South Dakota. Senior Colleen McGlaughlin went 3-for-5 on the afternoon with five RBIs, and sophomore Chelsey Carmody collected five hits in six at-bats. Freshman Liz Watkins added five RBIs in just three at-bats.

The Hawkeyes are aiming for their third-straight shutout and their sixth in the last 10 games when the Statesmen make their way up from Oskaloosa for the 4 p.m. start.

Iowa senior Brittany Weil tossed a one-hit shutout in the first game of Sunday’s twin bill against South Dakota, and junior Amanda Zust followed with the first no-hitter of her career in game two.

“Both Brit and I just focus on ourselves and what we can control,” Zust said. “With Big Tens coming up, we need to focus on where we are right now, and not on our opponents. That’s been our mindset.”

Blevins said both pitchers will likely see action today in preparation for the Big Ten opener this weekend at Ohio State. The duo has a combined ERA of 1.05 after posting the seventh-best combined ERA in the country a year ago.

Weil was drafted by the Akron Racers in February to play professionally after graduation. She currently sits just 37 strikeouts short of former Hawkeye Lisa Birocci’s career mark of 946, set in 2005. Weil also needs 13 more wins to overtake Hawkeye great Debbie Bilbao for the most wins in school history. If she breaks Bilbao’s record of 99 victories, she will become the first Hawkeye to reach the 100-career-win plateau.

Iowa’s wealth of experience in the pitching circle stands in stark contrast to the level of experience behind the plate for the Hawkeyes this season, although it has yet to show.

Watkins, a freshman from Taylor Ridge, Ill., has filled the void at catcher left by the departure of Emily Nichols. Nichols was drafted by the Chicago Bandits following her senior year; she had started the previous four years at catcher and setting the school record for career home runs at 37.

Blevins said Watkins has stepped into one of the toughest roles to play on a softball team — being a young catcher — and performed admirably. Watkins leads the team in home runs (four), slugging percentage (.578), and on-base percentage (.429).

“For these two pitchers to have a young player at catcher and have her learning so well on the job has made a big difference,” Blevins said. “She goes out and improves every game.”

Watkins isn’t the only freshman to have an immediate effect this season — Katie Keim has played in all 31 games this season, with 28 starts — mostly at third base. Missy Mazur has also started four times for the Black and Gold in her freshman campaign.

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