Iowa tops MSU with multi-hit rallies


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The Iowa softball team swept Michigan State in its Big Ten home opening series at Pearl Field, taking down the Spartans 5-3 on April 9 and 9-8 on Sunday.

The Hawkeyes played without three starters on April 9 — senior Stephanie Ochoa and sophomore Jordan Goschie were suspended two games after violating team rules, and Chelsey Carmody wasn’t present because of a death in her family.

As a result, Iowa’s infield was shifted — Brianna Luna played third, and regular third baseman Michelle Zoeller shifted to shortstop. Freshman pitcher Kayla Massey also picked up a bat and entered the offensive lineup in addition to pitching all seven innings.

Throughout the series, the Hawkeyes cashed in on aggressive base running. In the first inning of the first game, junior Katie Keim reached on a walk, and sophomore Ashley Akers laid down a bunt for a single. Keim and Akers then executed a double steal to put runners on second and third.

Luna continued the rally when she reached base after getting hit by a pitch, loading the bases.

Catcher Liz Watkins then hit a two-RBI single and advanced to second when the Spartans threw home. Luna and Watkins later reached home on errors by the Michigan State infield, and the Hawkeyes turned two hits into four runs.

“It starts with one person, and then success breeds success, confidence breeds confidence,” head coach Marla Looper said. “It’s like a wildfire — it can just catch and keep going. Any time we get [runners] in scoring position — and the team can be pretty aroused, and the hitter up there is confident — it’s going get everyone excited.”

The Hawkeyes’ morale soared in the bottom of the fifth inning on Sunday when a series of bunts and smart base running generated three hits and two runs, and Iowa pulled out of a tie.

Keim started the rally, reaching first on fielder’s choice, and she was followed by Akers, who laid down a perfect bunt that stopped dead merely inches in front of the batter’s box. However, after Akers clearly reached first ahead of the throw, the home plate umpire called her out, claiming that Akers had hit the ball with her foot while it was in play.

Akers animatedly stretched her arms out in disbelief and waited on first base clearly upset while the umpires held a conference with Looper and Spartan head coach Jacquie Joseph. Once the umpires finally concluded that Akers earned the single, she jumped up and down on the bag, clapping her hands.

“At first I was just like, ‘You have to be kidding me,’ ” she said. “But I knew they’d figure it out, and I just knew that it would definitely go in our favor because they were thinking about it and they were worrying about it. We definitely had the momentum at that point.”

Following Akers’ bunt, Johnny Dowling also laid down a bunt, and when the Spartans tried to throw her out at first, Keim scored from second and Akers also crossed home plate. When the Michigan State infielders tried to throw out a running Dowling at second, Akers scored, and Dowling advanced to third.

“Momentum really carries, and our team did a good job of taking that momentum [from Akers’ bunt] and just getting the job done,” Dowling said. “We really just fed off each others’ energy and the energy of the crowd. And we were aggressive, and because of that we got ahead and stayed there.”

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