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Ochoa’s average continues to climb

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | APRIL 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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In the 2010 season, Stephanie Ochoa batted .181, but this year, the senior leads the Iowa softball team with a batting average of .430. There has been no drastic change to her approach; instead, a little bit of confidence has helped Ochoa rake in 34 hits in 33 games so far this season.

Ochoa originally hails from Stanton, Calif., but relocated to Estherville, Iowa, to play for Iowa Lakes Community College. With the Lakers, she tallied a .509 batting average in 2008 and .498 in 2009.

However, upon becoming a Hawkeye in 2010, Ochoa’s average dropped to .181 for the season. But the statistics might be misleading.

Ochoa frequently made contact with the ball and hit it hard, but she often had trouble finding a hole in the defense to earn a base hit, said former Iowa assistant coach Shane Bouman, now the head coach at Iowa Lakes.

“She’s always been a great hitter,” Bouman said. “Hitting is contagious; a lot of the time, once you get hot, you can stay hot for quite a while. The trick is to hit with a lot of confidence, and that just comes with practice and repetition.”

When the Hawkeyes changed their coaching staff this year, Stacy Johnson entered the batting cage as Iowa’s hitting coach. Johnson’s small changes to batting-practice routines have benefited Ochoa by helping her gain confidence in her abilities as a batter.

The Hawkeyes try to take about the same number of swings each day during batting practice in order to create a stable routine regardless of the opponent ahead of them, Johnson said.

“Coach Stacy does a really good job with our drills each and every single day,” Ochoa said. “She’s good at working with hitting what we need to work on, like a certain side of the plate or hitting to a certain place.”

The consistency in the batting cage has helped Ochoa gain confidence behind the plate, and that confidence has translated into a team-leading batting average and a .491 on-base-percentage that puts her second among the Hawkeyes.

“She’s been really confident this year, there’s no doubt about that, because you can see it in practice and in the games,” Johnson said. “And that confidence has helped her learn to make small adjustments in the game that allow her to be successful.”

As Ochoa continues to excel offensively, the other teams in the Big Ten will see her as a threat and learn to pitch around her. Her challenge as the season progresses is to learn to hit pitches over both the inside and outside of the plate, depending on where the opposing pitcher thinks her weak spot is.

“The biggest thing is for her to be confident and comfortable with that outside pitch,” head coach Marla Looper said. “They’re going to continue to throw her out[side] because of where she stands in the box. Her challenge is to adjust throughout the game and not assume the pitches she favors are always coming.”

Ochoa’s main fear-factor for her opponents is her ability to hit the ball hard, no matter where it’s pitched. As the Big Ten pitchers try to figure out how to defeat Iowa’s strongest batter, they’ve seen her hit all their tricks.

“More than they realize it, they’re pitching right into her strengths,” Johnson said. “If she wants to continue to hit at this level, she’s going to have to figure out how to hit both sides of the plate consistently, and she’s learning fast. So far, she’s done a great job on the outside, and she’s hit the inside really, really hard when they’ve given it to her. They’re definitely a little bit afraid.”


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