Heart of the order carrying softball offense

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | APRIL 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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Two Iowa softball players have won Big Ten Player of the Week honors this season. Senior cocaptain Chelsey Carmody — who leads the team in runs, hits, and doubles and is batting .423 — isn’t one of them.

That illustrates just how much production the Hawkeyes are getting from a three-player core at the heart of their batting order.

Carmody, senior Stephanie Ochoa, and junior Liz Watkins fill the third, fourth, and fifth slots in Iowa’s lineup. Ochoa and Carmody are first and second on the team in batting average. Watkins is fourth and has hit seven home runs — more than twice as much as any other Hawkeye.

“They’ve definitely been carrying the offense,” head coach Marla Looper said. “It’s huge. We kind of live and die by the top half of our lineup and their ability to bring in runs.”

Carmody has been reaching base at an impressive clip her whole career. She hit .320 or better in each of her first three seasons at Iowa.

But this season, she’s pushed that average even higher. She hit .706 to help Iowa win the Stetson Classic on March 11-13.

“I definitely feel comfortable [at the plate],” the Pacific, Mo., native said. “It’s kind of relaxing this year, just looking and figuring out what I need to do in each at-bat and then going and doing it.”

Ochoa was moved into the cleanup spot this season and has seen her average more than double from last season’s. Watkins is two home runs away from tying her single-season best with 18 games remaining.

“They’re all starting to find a little rhythm,” Looper said. “You get a little confidence, and it just kind of builds on itself. But they’re also going to start seeing pitchers who are going to start throwing around them because they have had success.”

Looper said the team isn’t getting consistent enough production from the bottom half of its lineup.

No other regular starters are hitting .300 or better. The first-year head coach said the hitters populating the bottom half would benefit from studying the trio’s at-bats. Once they begin having more success, Looper said, pitchers won’t be able to pitch around the heart of the lineup as easily.

But the players themselves play down the amount of “carrying” they do.

“We just do what we need to do and what the team needs us to do,” Ochoa said. “We’re just like any other part of the lineup.”

Carmody agreed.

“The longer through the lineup you can have a steady presence, the more productive you’re going to be,” she said. “We expect everybody to be productive, but we do expect ourselves to get on base and bring a lot of runs in.”

All that’s needed to further cement the trio’s reputation is a third Player of the Week award. But Carmody said she’s “not too worried about it,” and Looper gave her an honor of her own.

“She didn’t get the Player of the Week award, but she’s definitely the player of our first two months,” Looper said. “I think she’s all right with that.”

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