Commentary: Puzzling losses for softball

BY JON LINDER | APRIL 06, 2009 7:30 AM

The April 4 softball double-header between Penn State and Iowa left me scratching my head.
Penn State came into the weekend with a 9-18 overall record and a goose egg in its conference win column. Iowa had won three straight, including Brittany Weil’s perfect game against Illinois — the first at Iowa in more than a decade.

After shelling the Fighting Illini in Game Two to win 9-1 and move into a tie for second in the conference, a five-game win streak seemed almost certain for Iowa with the lowly Nittany Lions coming into Pearl Field.

Whichever way you look at it, the Nittany Lions stole two games when they came to Iowa City this past weekend and consequently left the Hawkeyes to do a little soul searching.

I’ll admit. It’s no secret I was looking past this weekend to Iowa’s rivalry game with Iowa State on Tuesday and a five-game road trip.

I don’t know if Iowa was looking past the Nittany Lions as well, but it might explain some uncharacteristic play.

“If anybody did, shame on them,” head coach Gayle Blevins said. “We talk about how important it is to always prepare and play hard. We can’t just show up and expect to win.”

I’m not going to say the Hawkeyes looked like they thought they could “just show up,” but it was obvious the focus was not where it needed to be.

And that’s what was so puzzling to me. Through the first four home games I’ve covered this year, it was pretty apparent that a Blevins-coached team simply does not make mental mistakes.

Maybe I was too harsh, overly dramatic even, when I said Iowa had to do some soul-searching. Obviously, this isn’t the end of the world. Good teams occasionally lose games they aren’t supposed to.

Nevertheless, everyone around this team realizes games like these need to be won if Iowa is going to realize its potential. This team has a chance to do something special this year behind an outstanding pitching staff and an offense that can put runs on the board with regularity when the hitters are aggressive.

Weil has two no-hitters and a career strikeout record of 954 to go along with the aforementioned perfect game, and junior Amanda Zust is a fireballer with an outstanding 15-2 record. Colleen McGlaughlin leads the conference with 34 RBIs, and Liz Watkins sits in fourth with 28 in her freshman campaign.

With all this potential and a less than stellar team in the opposing dugout, uncharacteristic mistakes only added to my head-scratching.

Down 1-0 in the first game, junior Lindsey Digmann singled and easily stole second base with two outs in the sixth. The late throw to second momentarily got away from Penn State and for whatever reason Digmann got up and gunned for third. It didn’t take an All-American to throw her out and end the inning.

In the bottom of the seventh, Jenny Schuelke hit a two-out, pinch-hit single and Rachel West stole second as a pinch-runner. Sam Heinzman, who has been clutch all season, struck out swinging to end the game.

I was still scratching away.

Game Two saw Iowa leave a bevy of baserunners stranded. In the third inning, Digmann reached second base with one out only to watch RBI machines McGlaughlin and Watkins pop up and strikeout. In the sixth, West was caught leaving early and called out. She would have counted as the tying run three batters later when Chelsey Carmody’s single drove in pinch runner Callie Adreon to pull within 2-1.

Iowa is still a very talented softball team and is well-coached. The Hawkeyes are ultimately on the right track to make a serious run at the College World Series, but they’ll be the first one’s to tell you, they can’t afford any more head scratchers.

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