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Softball hosts Northern Iowa

BY MITCH SMITH | APRIL 28, 2010 7:30 AM

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When members of the Iowa softball team look into the opposing dugout, they usually see the enemy.

But when the Hawkeyes host Northern Iowa tonight, some will see friends and former teammates. Four Iowa players will challenge former high-school teammates at 6 p.m. in Pearl Field today.

Senior Lindsey Digmann and freshman Johnnie Dowling will face two former teammates from their respective high schools, and seniors Katie Brown and Amanda Zust will each face one.

Panther sophomore Hannah Borschel isn’t only connected to the Hawkeyes — former high-school teammate Digmann, though, she’s also the sister of Iowa’s 174-pound NCAA wrestling champion Jay Borschel.

“When you go to play somebody that you know, you’re going to come out and play with all you have,” said Dowling, who was high-school teammates with UNI’s Laura Turner and Sarah Bakey at West Des Moines Valley. “It’s added fun, and you definitely want to come out on top.”

The Panthers (24-20) have had little success against the Hawkeyes in recent years, with Iowa winning four of the last five meetings. But the Hawkeyes (23-16) enter today’s contest on a low note, riding a two-game losing streak after dropping a pair of games to Penn State last weekend.

Iowa’s offense managed only five hits in two games against the Nittany Lions and were outscored 12-3 in the process.

Iowa head coach Gayle Blevins said it would be an understatement to say her team was subpar, and the coaching staff was mystified by the team’s approach.

“We struggled in all parts of our game,” Blevins said. “You can’t expect to win when all our parts aren’t up to speed.”

A multi-game losing streak is something the Hawkeyes haven’t had much experience with this season. The last time the team recorded back-to-back losses was March 13.

The Hawkeye pitching staff, which had been solid over the past couple of weeks, struggled last weekend against the Nittany Lions. Zust has allowed seven earned runs in 72⁄3 innings, and freshman hurler Chelsea Lyon gave up four earned runs in 41⁄3 innings.

On offense, the squad’s inability to put runs on the board could have something to do with the lack of production by their power hitters. Two of Iowa’s top three run producers — Liz Watkins and Chelsey Carmody — have struggled knocking in runs home recently, combining to drive in only three runs over the past eight games.

Despite the team’s struggles, Brown said, the Hawkeyes had their “best practice of the year” on Tuesday and will be ready to turn things around in their favor.

“The biggest thing that came out of practice was that we have to compete no matter the situation,” she said.

With only nine games remaining in the season and the three best Big Ten opponents lurking ahead on the schedule, the Hawkeyes know their postseason hopes are on the line every time they step on the field.

The team set a goal of “five-plus,” meaning the players want to win at least five more games to close out the season.

Now that the long-term goal is established, Blevins said, the short-term goal is simple — focusing on being consistent day-to-day.

“There is a sense of urgency for us to get it done and accomplish our goal,” Brown said. “It starts right now with Northern Iowa.”

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