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Massey lends a defensive hand

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | APRIL 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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When the Iowa softball team will takes on top-ranked Michigan this weekend, it will have to make every play count. The Hawkeyes will challenge the Wolverines at 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. April 24 at Alumni Field in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Michigan leads the NCAA with a 41-3 record; Iowa's is 25-16.

"We've got a good shot," head coach Marla Looper said. "[Michigan is] a very good ball club, but everything we've played so far has been good. Everybody's got strengths, and everybody's got weaknesses, but we've got to key in on where our strengths are."

Iowa is strong when freshman pitcher Kayla Massey is on the mound, not only in terms of strikeouts, but also defensively because she consistently fields any ball that comes her way.

When asked how she manages to field numerous hard-to-reach balls each game, she simply shrugged and said, "I just try to get anything that comes back at me."

Against Northwestern on April 16, Massey was responsible for nine of the 24 outs made by the Hawkeyes: Three strikeouts, one caught infield fly, and five plays to first. Her 1.000 fielding-percentage leads the team.

Iowa's only other pitcher, Chelsea Lyon, is also a proficient fielder.

"Both pitchers defensively have become strong fielders," defense coach Adrianna Baggetta said. "We've emphasized and stressed that throughout the fall and the beginning of the spring that the better a pitcher can field her position, the harder it is for someone to hit a ball up the middle, and that's good for us."

Massey's success on the field is good for more than tallying outs — it also brings the infield together.

"The presence of the pitcher is important. As a pitcher, if you can step up and be a fielder, too, it just kind of gives off that vibe and aura to the other fielders," Baggetta said. "Anytime you see a pitcher become a good fielder, you feel like you should be making good plays, too, and the whole team's confidence just grows."

Massey comes off as soft-spoken and gentle away from the mound, but once she steps onto the rubber, her demeanor becomes serious and intense. Her long blond ponytail sways in the wind behind her as she focuses on home plate. Her intensity pays off in her 2.90 ERA, and it has given her 12 wins with only six losses.

Massey will start in one of the games against Michigan this weekend, and the Hawkeyes are positive she'll continue to be successful. In a game against the NCAA's top-ranked team, every out counts, and Massey is able to rack up great defensive plays for the Hawkeyes.

Looper said she's confident in her abilities and the rest of the team is, too, not only in pitching strikes but also in grabbing short hops from the dirt and firing them to first base.

"When the ball is hit back at Kayla, I have all the faith and confidence in her to be able to react and grab that ball," catcher Liz Watkins said. "She has the utmost confidence about everything. When she steps on the mound, I can just see it in her eyes. It's the way she carries herself — you know that she's going to be successful, and that's what we need."


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