Akers showing she’s more than a bunter

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | APRIL 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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Ashley Akers stood at the plate in the second inning with two outs and runners on second and third base. Iowa had scored two runs in the inning.

Akers had bunted earlier in the game against Michigan State on April 10. The day before, she bunted twice, stole a base, and scored on a throwing error.

But this time, Akers didn’t bunt.

She smacked a line drive to left center field that scored a run and continued the Hawkeyes’ second-inning explosion. The team scored 6 in the inning, and it turned out it needed every one of them in a 9-8 victory.

Akers was 3-for-5 for the game with two RBIs, and Iowa head coach Marla Looper said that performance was an example of her center fielder’s growth as an offensive threat this year.

“She was hitting gaps and pushing the ball hard, and right then, I saw it in her eyes,” Looper said. “That ‘Wow, I can do this.’ ”

Akers was used primarily as a pinch-runner last season as a freshman. She appeared in 41 games and scored 20 runs. But 19 of those runs came as a pinch runner, and Akers recorded just six at-bats all season.

This season, she has 98 at-bats. And while her .265 batting average is unspectacular, Looper said Akers’ confidence is growing, making her more of a factor at the plate as the season progresses.
It shows in Akers’ .375 average in Big Ten play.

“At the beginning, it was a bit of an adjustment,” she said. “But as the season’s gone on, I’ve gotten more comfortable. … I’ve been really working on staying through the ball.”

Akers started the season hitting ninth in the Hawkeye order. But Looper recently moved her up to second in part because Akers is a skilled bunter, “which is what you need from a two-hitter.” But the move was made also because Looper wants the Hawkeyes to occasionally force the action from that spot with more than just bunts, and Akers has flashed ability as a line-drive hitter.

“She’s grown tremendously, and the reason she’s getting the opportunities she’s getting is because she’s gaining confidence and getting a little more power,” Looper said. “But she can drop a bunt with ease, too. She’s become a table-setter for our big hitters.”

Junior catcher Liz Watkins, who leads the team in RBIs, praised Akers’ growth at the plate.

“She used to be a bunt specialist,” Watkins said. “But now she’s opened up her game where she can slap the ball through the gap, and keep defenses on their toes that way.”

Despite the increased power in Akers’ swing, she’s remained an opportunistic bunter and base runner. Against Minnesota, she scored on a throwing error, and she’s one of three Hawkeyes to have successfully stolen a base on every attempt this year.

“I don’t really give myself a certain role, like a hitter or a base runner,” she said. “I see myself doing everything I can every game to help the team get a win.”

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