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Softball buries Western Illinois after huge first inning

BY IAN MARTIN | APRIL 19, 2010 7:30 AM

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The bottom of the order picked up the slack for the Iowa offense on Sunday.

Despite most of the top bats staying quiet, the Hawkeyes defeated visiting Western Illinois, 8-0, behind five first-inning runs.

The unusual suspects for Iowa came in the form of center fielder Johnnie Dowling and third baseman Katie Keim, who combined for six RBIs in the contest.

Iowa (23-14) jumped out to an early lead on the Leathernecks (24-15) after a double play ended a jam in the top of the first for Iowa. Then, the Hawkeyes had big hits from their typically defensive-minded players.

Two hitters after Katie Brown doubled in fellow senior Taylor Lesichenring for the first score; the bases were loaded for Katie Keim. The sophomore hit a blooper into right field, bringing home two base runners for her sixth and seventh RBIs of the year.

Dowling, hitting .177 prior to the game, had a two-RBI hit after Keim, lining a ball to center field.
Winning pitcher Amanda Zust said the first-inning runs were huge for both her and the team because it put the squad at ease for the rest of the game.

“You can just go out there with a lot less on your shoulders,” Zust said. “And just play more freely.”

In the circle, Zust threw strongly for Iowa, allowing only seven hits and no runs. She also recorded three strikeouts in her 14th victory of the year, which she credited to her defense, which recorded three double plays in the game.

Two of Iowa’s twin killings came unconventionally, and in significant spots for the defense. In the first and sixth innings, Western Illinois players popped up to the Iowa infield, and the Leathernecks’ runners were doubled off second.

“We just love double plays,” Brown said. “It really ignites the crowd and the rest of the team.”

Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins said those plays were particularly important in stopping the momentum the Leathernecks could have gained.

The mercy rule also killed any hopes of a comeback for Western Illinois.

Iowa went into the bottom of the sixth inning looking for two more runs to tack onto its 6-0 lead.

With a runner on, Dowling blasted a pitch over the left-field foul pole for a walk-off home run.

“I actually thought it was foul for a second,” she said. “And then Ashley Akers was on second, and I saw her kind of stop so I was like, ‘Dang it.’ But then she kept going.”

Blevins seemed satisfied with the defense and offense in the game, and she also stressed the importance of a win for a team’s mentality going into a long break.

Iowa has a six-day break before heading to Penn State.

“It helps your psyche,” said Blevins, smiling. “It helps the coach’s psyche for sure.”

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