Softball earns dramatic sweep over Wildcats

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | APRIL 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa softball team is making a habit of playing in close games with dramatic finishes.

As long as the final scores keep ending up in favor of the Hawkeyes (24-16, 7-3 Big Ten), head coach Marla Looper isn't complaining.

"If we end up on the winning side, I'm all right," she said. "I'd prefer not to do it, but the nice thing is we're not freaking out and panicking when we get behind."

Iowa is 5-1 in its last six games, all of which have been decided by two runs or fewer. The last two wins came in a weekend sweep of Northwestern (20-13, 2-6) that included a 10-8 win on an extra-inning walk-off home run on April 16 and an eight-run fourth inning in a 9-7 comeback victory on Sunday.

In the weekend's first game at Pearl Field, the Hawkeyes trailed 8-6 in the bottom of the seventh after giving up a three-run home run in the top of the inning. Freshman Michelle Zoeller hit an RBI single up the middle to cut the deficit to one.

With two outs, the Hawkeyes put freshman Brianna Luna into the game as a pinch-hitter. Luna sent the game to extra innings with an RBI double.

In the bottom of the eighth, after catcher Liz Watkins was hit by a pitch, sophomore outfielder Johnnie Dowling stepped up to the plate. Dowling hadn't recorded a hit in her three at-bats during the game.

"I felt a lot of pressure," she said. "I wasn't hitting very well at the beginning of the game. I just took a couple of deep breaths and stepped in there, and she gave me a good pitch to hit."

Dowling said she knew as soon as she made contact that the ball would clear the fence and give Iowa a 10-8 victory.

The next day, it looked like the Hawkeyes would suffer a letdown. After the top of the fourth inning, Iowa trailed 7-1. The team had recorded only one hit, a solo home run from Watkins.

But Watkins said she never doubted the team would make a run.

"It was early enough in the game that I wasn't nervous," she said. "I knew our bats were going to come alive, and we were going to be able to pull this game out."

The run came in the fourth inning. Northwestern pitcher Sammy Albanese loaded the bases for Iowa with two walks and a beaned batter. Then Katie Keim hit a two-RBI single, Dowling reached on an error to load the bases again, and Albanese walked in another run.

Stephanie Ochoa kept the inning rolling when she powered a ball between Wildcat second basemen Jordan Wheeler's legs and into the outfield. Three runs scored on the hit. Watkins then capped off the inning with her second homer of the game, a two-run shot that gave Iowa its eighth run of the inning and a 9-7 lead.

Pitcher Chelsea Lyon said the offensive explosion relaxed her and gave her confidence, and the sophomore shut Northwestern out the rest of the way, picking up her 13th win of the season.

"They had a couple of errors, and we had a couple key hits," Looper said. "Anytime someone gives us extra chances, we need to take care of it, and we did that today."

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