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Dowling hot at the plate

BY MITCH SMITH | APRIL 19, 2010 7:30 AM

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After the Iowa softball team unloaded five first-inning runs against Western Illinois on Sunday, the squad had only one hit in the next four innings.

That lack of offense didn’t stop Johnnie Dowling.

The Hawkeye freshman stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the sixth and delivered a two-run walk-off home run that sailed over the left-field fence and sent the Leathernecks home early with an 8-0, mercy-rule loss.

Lately, productive plate appearances have been the norm for the freshman center fielder, who went 2-for-3 with four RBIs in Sunday’s contest.

“Johnnie’s been having great at-bats,” senior pitcher Amanda Zust said. “She’s a person who’s going to put the ball in play. We have a lot of confidence in her coming up — especially in the lower part of our order — and making things happen.”

While Dowling is one of four players who have started all of Iowa’s 37 games this season, her recent success in the batter’s box is a byproduct of early season struggles.

The former Iowa Class 4A Player of the Year said hitting has been a major focus of hers throughout the 2010 campaign. She even changed her swing since high school.

In turn, she has also tried to change her mentality while at the plate.

“At the beginning of the season, I kind of had a lot of stuff going through my head,” Dowling said. “Now, I’ll just go up there and be like, ‘Clear your head, and just hit the ball.’ ”

Since April 14, the Des Moines native has provided plenty of pop in the bottom half of the batting order, raising her batting average by 26 points. During that span, Dowling hit .500 with a pair of home runs and five RBIs.

Her three home runs and 15 RBIs this season is good for fifth-best on the team in those categories.

“She’s an outstanding hitter,” senior Katie Brown said. “She has a lot of confidence right now with a couple home runs lately. She’s swinging the bat really well and just needs to keep it up.”

Thrown into the starting lineup as a freshman is a tough situation to manage, Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins said. But she said Dowling is steadily developing.

“She’s starting to understand her role within our program,” Blevins said. “She got thrown into some pretty big heat by virtue of being our center fielder as a freshman. There’s a lot of responsibility in that position. She’s starting to grasp the game on a different level now that she would have earlier in the season.”

Dowling said having productive hitters, including her, at the bottom of the batting order not only helps her confidence, but the team’s as well.

“It helps our team a lot when the bottom of our order steps up,” she said. “If we keep putting hits through, we’re going to be successful as a team.”


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