Iowa softball faces Michigan State

BY MITCH SMITH | MARCH 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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So far, only rain has been able to stop the Iowa softball team’s recent hot streak.

And if the squad continues to play the way it has in recent weeks, opponents could be in trouble.

The Hawkeyes (14-12-1) open Big Ten play this weekend in East Lansing, Mich., with a pair of contests against Michigan State. The teams are scheduled to play noon games on Saturday and March 28.

Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins said she expects both Big Ten Pitcher of the Week Amanda Zust and freshman Chelsea Lyon to see action in the pitcher’s circle for the Hawkeyes this weekend.

Although unable to play Wednesday’s game against Illinois State because of inclement weather, Iowa wasn’t going to let a little bit of rain quash its momentum.

While the Redbirds hopped back on the bus to return to Normal, Ill., the Hawkeyes didn’t take a day off. The squad stuck around and helped build camaraderie by participating in team-building exercises.

“With such a young team, it’s important to build these relationships with our teammates,” sophomore cocaptain Liz Watkins said.

Iowa finished 13-7 in the Big Ten last season, good for fourth.

While its record is below .500, Michigan State (13-15) has put together a modest three-game winning streak. But Iowa has been on a streak of its own, winning its last two games and five of the last six.

Spartan Lindsey Hansen leads the Spartans at the plate, and Lauren Kramer commands the pitcher’s circle. Hansen’s .373 batting average is tied with Iowa junior Chelsey Carmody for the 12th-best in the conference, and Kramer boasts the eighth-lowest ERA in the Big Ten.

Michigan State has been no match for Gayle Blevins’ Hawkeyes in recent years. Iowa hasn’t lost to the Spartans since 2006, and it has won the last seven meetings between the two squads.

And although the Hawkeyes have only the sixth-best overall record among Big Ten teams, they believe they can be extremely dangerous in the conference. In order to do so, the players said, they know they’ll have to deal with stiff competition.

“If we compete with the best, we’re going to be the best,” senior cocaptain Katie Brown said.

The Big Ten boasts two teams in the national rankings. Conference powerhouse Michigan (23-5) sits at the No. 2 spot in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll.

Illinois is No. 18. The Fighting Illini (23-3) are off to their best start in program history.

Each year, the Hawkeyes set their sights on a Big Ten title, and this year is no different. Blevins said it’s not about being the best team in the conference, it’s about being the most consistent.

“You always have a long-term goal. And that’s winning a Big Ten title,” Blevins said. “But then it comes back to what you do each day to accomplish that goal. If you have a good day today, you’ll probably have a good tomorrow. When you put all those days together, you’re going to have success.”

The past week has been full of good days for the Hawkeyes.

Over the last six games, Iowa has scored 30 runs and allowed five.

“Our main thing is to compete and play Iowa softball,” Watkins said. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, the momentum is going to keep flowing.”

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