Softball to face Northwestern today

BY IAN MARTIN | APRIL 07, 2010 7:30 AM

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The adage goes that the best defense is a good offense. But the Iowa softball team may be proving that the best defense is, well, a good defense.

Iowa (18-13-1) is 4-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 2007, and the Hawks will try to extend that mark in a double-header against visiting Northwestern (16-13, 2-2) in Pearl Field this evening.

The Hawkeyes have allowed only nine runs in their first four games — six of which came in one game against Michigan State. And it seems the Iowa players are aware of their strong defense in conference play this year.

Following a 12-1 victory over Indiana on Sunday, which included an eight-run first inning, first baseman Katie Brown commended Iowa’s glove game.

“Our left side of the infield is just outstanding right now,” she said. “I love just sitting at the bag [knowing] they’re going to get it to me.”

Iowa’s third base and shortstop positions are filled by sophomore Katie Keim — who has a .924 fielding percentage and an uncanny vertical leap — and junior Chelsey Carmody, who has 49 putouts — a team high for non-catchers or non-first basemen.

Yet the improved defense from last weekend, after a four-error performance in the team’s 7-3 loss at Iowa State on March 31, is not the only improvement that has the team optimistic for a pair of victories over visiting Northwestern.

Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins said the offense is beginning to spark, likely because hitting in clutch situations has instilled confidence in the players.

“When you have a quality at-bat, or you make a huge play, you gain confidence from that,” Blevins said.

The Hawkeyes certainly need to retain their confidence against the Wildcats — they have won 10 of the last 11 meetings between the teams.

But Brown, who recorded an RBI in Iowa’s last win over Northwestern in 2008, seemed to think the team’s attitude would come about in the days before the game, not on the diamond.

“We came out last week and had two really good practices after we lost to Iowa State,” she said. “So I think how we practice … is going to dictate how we’re going to play.”

Blevins agreed, noting that practice was important for a team doing well.

“We’ve got a team that can still get a lot better,” she said.

Improvements have been noticeable from even the earlier part of the season for the Hawkeyes. The team, which boasts six freshmen and two transfer students, has jelled after owning a .500 record at one point.

Senior pitcher Amanda Zust, who will start one of today’s two games, said whether it’s the defense behind her, an eight-run inning, or the attitude of the team after practice, it all aids in securing the win.

“We’re very pleased,” she said. “This is how we wanted to start Big Tens, and it gives us a lot of confidence and energy.”

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