Softball looks to spoil Cyclone home opener

BY IAN MARTIN | MARCH 31, 2010 7:30 AM

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Something has come over Liz Watkins. Something maybe even a Cyclone cannot stop.

Watkins has been an opposing pitcher’s nightmare at the plate in recent games.

The sophomore catcher went 6-for-7 last weekend during the Hawkeyes’ two-game sweep of Michigan State, including a home run and a double in Sunday’s game — numbers warranting a Co-Big Ten Player of the Week honor.

“Liz had quality at-bats this weekend and swung with a lot of confidence,” Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins said. “And we just want her to keep moving in a better direction.”

Watkins and her hot bat will get a chance to push her .342 batting average higher when Iowa (16-12-1) faces Iowa State (21-13) in Ames at 4 p.m. today. The game is the Cyclones’ home-opener after 34-straight road games to begin the season.

The Hawkeyes hope to spoil their opponent’s welcome home. And they have a history of doing so — Iowa has won five-straight games at Iowa State and won six of its last seven games.

The most recent meeting, though, was the one misstep for Iowa.

The Cyclones and the Hawkeyes met once already this year, a Feb. 13 contest ending in a 8-2 win for Iowa State during the Metrodome Tournament. Yet, players don’t seem worried about a repeat of that result, stressing the team has evolved from its early season form.

“We have a completely different team going into this game than we did at the beginning of the season,” senior infielder Lindsey Digmann said. “Everyone’s starting to click at the same time.”

This combination of individual improvement is showing in the win column for the Hawkeyes, a team that has won six of its last seven games, including its last four.

There also seems to be a variety in the style of victory for Iowa, which won two of the last four games via the “mercy rule” but then had a low-scoring 3-1 victory at Michigan State. The team also showed resilience in recovering from allowing five runs in the second inning to defeat the Spartans 7-6.

“We’re still finding ways [to win],” Blevins said. “If one part of our game struggles, another part picks up.”

It is part of a simple team approach, she said: If “they score five runs, we’re scoring six.”

But Iowa State isn’t going to give up those six runs easily. The Cyclones have won eight of its last nine games, although the one loss came last weekend in a road contest at Texas Tech.

“The biggest thing is to keep our bats going,” Watkins said. “Our defense always plays well behind our pitchers, and the pitching staff is going great right now.”

And while it’s not a conference game for Iowa, she said, there does seem to be an added incentive when playing their Ames rival.

“We have to go out there and show them that this is a Hawkeye state,” Watkins said.

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