Softball tries to bounce back from sweep

BY MIKE SLUSARK | APRIL 17, 2009 7:31 AM

The No. 23 Iowa softball team will look to get its bats going this weekend in two home games against last-place Michigan State.

The Spartan pitchers are among the worst in the Big Ten this season with a league-worst 4.89 team ERA. Michigan State pitchers have also surrendered more hits than any other team and have the least amount of strikeouts.

However, Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins is not letting her team get cocky.

“You can’t look at a team in the standings, which I really believe is a little bit of what happened with us with Penn State and think it doesn’t require your ‘A’ game,” Blevins said. “You’ve got to come ready to play every day. In our conference, anyone can beat anyone.”

Adding to the team’s defensive woes, the Spartans (14-22, 0-9) have the worst-fielding percentage in the Big Ten and have committed the most fielding errors of any team in the conference.

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In contrast, the Hawkeyes (33-11, 5-5) are second in the Big Ten with a 1.11 team ERA, lead the conference in fielding percentage and have committed the fourth least errors.

Iowa pitchers will have to respect the visitors’ bats, however — Michigan State has had some success at the plate this season. The Spartans are currently ranked fifth in the Big Ten with a .283 team batting average and are third in home runs with 33 this season, six more than Iowa.

The Hawkeyes are coming off their worst loss of their season Wednesday. In the second game of a double-header in Evanston, Iowa was beat, 16-5, in five innings by No. 10 Northwestern.

Junior pitcher Amanda Zust took the loss after giving up five earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. Senior pitcher Brittany Weil allowed five earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings pitched against the Wildcats.

Northwestern swept Iowa in the double-header edging out the Hawkeyes, 6-5, in nine innings in the first game after Iowa rallied from a 5-1 deficit to force extra frames.

“[Wednesday], the second game wasn’t a very good game for us, obviously,” junior first baseman Katie Brown said. “But I believe the first game we played pretty well, offensively, defensively we stuck to our game plan.”

The Spartans defeated Central Michigan, 7-6, in eight innings on Wednesday in East Lansing. The victory was the first for Michigan State since an 8-2 win over Detroit Mercy on March 25 and ended a seven-game losing streak.

Iowa leads the series record between the teams 64-27. The Spartans’ last victory against the Hawkeyes was an 8-4 win at Pearl Field on April 16, 2006.

The game is the first at Pearl Field for the Hawkeyes since a 7-1 victory over Iowa State on April 7. Iowa went 3-2 on a five-game road trip since then. The Hawkeyes defeated Western Illinois 7-1 on April 8 in Macomb, Ill., swept Purdue in two games in West Lafayette on April 11 and 12, and then dropped two on Wednesday to Northwestern in Evanston.

Iowa hits the road again after this weekend for a three-game trip with stops on April 21 in Cedar Falls for a matchup with Northern Iowa and two games in Bloomington on April 25 and 26 against Indiana.

This weekend, Brown knows the team can’t afford a letdown.

“Each game is big for us now, being where we are at in the Big Ten conference,” Brown said.

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