Softball hopes to stay hot today

BY MITCH SMITH | MARCH 24, 2010 7:30 AM

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After belting home runs and striking out opponents over the weekend, the Iowa softball team will try to pick up exactly where it left off when it takes the field today against Illinois State.

The Hawkeyes (14-12-1) will host the Redbirds at Pearl Field with the first pitch scheduled for 4 p.m. The matchup is the second time the two teams have faced each other this season. Iowa won the first meeting, 7-1, at the Littlewood Classic in Tempe, Ariz., on Feb. 20.

Led by Abby Olson — currently the Missouri Valley’s second-best hitter — the Redbirds (10-10) haven’t played a game since March 17.

After a stretch that saw Iowa win two out of six games, the Hawkeyes have won five of their last six contests, and they are riding a two-game winning streak after a pair of mercy-rule victories over South Dakota on Sunday.

Keeping up that momentum is imperative, senior pitcher Amanda Zust said. After today’s game, the Hawkeyes will begin the Big Ten schedule on Saturday against Michigan State.

“We’ve talked about using our spring-break trip and these home games to get momentum going into the conference opener,” Zust said. “Sunday’s games really helped, and it’s important we come out ready to play.”

One of the major improvements during Iowa’s streak of good play has come from inside the pitcher’s circle. Hawkeye hurlers Zust and freshman Chelsea Lyon have combined to allow only five earned runs over the last six games.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins said. “We threw some challenges at them, and we know they’re very capable. They’ve been far more consistent. Our pitching staff has made really great strides over the past couple of weeks.”

Zust will get the start against the Redbirds today, trying to follow up on her second-career no-hitter, which she hurled on Sunday against South Dakota.

This week’s Big Ten Pitcher of the Week has been an innnings-eater for the Hawkeyes this season. The senior has tossed 12 complete games and two shutouts, and she holds a 9-5 record with a 2.12 ERA.

In addition to strong pitching, Blevins’s squad has also outscored opponents 30-9 over the past six games.

Three Hawkeyes went deep over the weekend. Senior Katie Brown belted her fourth of the season, sophomore Liz Watkins hit her second, and freshman Jordan Goschie hit her first dinger of her collegiate career, giving the team 16 home runs this season.

“When you’re seeing the ball, and it looks huge coming in, and you’re stroking it, you can’t wait to get back to the park the next day,” Blevins said.

Junior Chelsey Carmody has also remained consistent at the plate, going 6-for-10 over the past four contests to lead the team with a .373 batting average.

“We’ve been working on who we are,” she said. “We’ve been finding it a little bit at a time. We did a great job showing it [on Sunday], and if we can continue that, that would be great.”

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