Softball hosts Purdue

BY MITCH SMITH | APRIL 09, 2010 7:30 AM

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Score first.

That’s the goal the Iowa softball coaches talk about before the Hawkeyes take the field. And when Iowa (19-13-1, 5-0 Big Ten) does strike first, the game usually ends well.

Putting runs on the board early has put the Hawkeyes at a major advantage so far. Iowa holds a 17-5 record when it scores first this season.

The Hawkeyes will try to strike first again this weekend at Pearl Field when they play a pair of home games against Big Ten foe Purdue. The two squads are slated to play single games on Saturday and April 10 with first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m. both days.

Iowa has had recent success against the Boilermakers, winning the last four meetings against the squad from West Lafayette, Ind.

It’s been a great start to the Big Ten schedule for the Hawkeyes, or what Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins has referred to as the team’s “second season.”

Sophomore Liz Watkins said she and her teammates were still “on cloud nine” after defeating Northwestern, 9-1, Wednesday night, and that the win gave the squad even more motivation.

That motivation is beginning to pile up. The Hawkeyes are off to one of their best conference starts in eight years with a 5-0 record in Big Ten play. Iowa is undefeated at home this season and is also riding a three-game winning streak.

One of the keys to Iowa getting on the scoreboard first has been leadoff hitter Lindsey Digmann.
The senior is riding a nine-game hitting streak; she hasn’t had a hitless contest since March 18. Her ability to get on base and set the table for such power hitters as Watkins and fellow senior Katie Brown gives the team a lot of momentum.

“I go to bat with the mindset, ‘You got to get on base,’ ” Digmann said. “I just go up there knowing I’ve got to set the stage for our other hitters.”

Limiting baserunners will be essential for the Hawkeyes’ this weekend because of Purdue’s prowess on the base paths.

The speedy Boilermakers (16-20, 1-3 Big Ten) have swiped 87-of-100 bases this season, and they boast the best two base-stealers in the conference.

The catcher Watkins had some practice throwing out baserunners in Wednesday’s contest against Northwestern, and the sophomore said she’s prepared to stop the Boilermaker baserunners, as well.

“I look at it as a challenge for me,” Watkins said. “I’m going to go in there knowing that I have the arm to get them out. And I trust my middle infielders out there. I know they will make the play.”

After a dominating 8-for-9 start at the plate during Big Ten play, Watkins has since cooled down a bit. The cocaptain is 1-for-6 at the dish in her last two games, but the Taylor Ridge, Ill., native said she isn’t worried and doesn’t plan on changing anything.

“You have ups and downs in softball,” she said. “The greatest thing is my teammates stepped up. I just think that says a lot. It’s a good feeling to know if one of us doesn’t have a great game, someone else will step up.”

Although the Hawkeyes are off to one of their best starts in the league, the team isn’t overlooking any opponent. Teams get beat when that happens, Blevins said. She ’s happy her squad has avoided this problem lately, she said.

“The biggest thing we’re focusing on is taking advantage of the next opportunity we have,” Blevins said. “Whether it’s at practice or a game, the area we’ve grown the most is taking advantage of the moment we have. It’s about preparing for the team and the game you have in front of you.”

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