Downward spiral continues for softball team

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | MAY 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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Defensive miscues plagued the Iowa softball team when it allowed 13 total runs in a pair of losses to Wisconsin on April 27. Then, a lack of offense plagued the Hawkeyes against Indiana, when they scored 1 run in two losses on April 30 and May 1.

When the team dropped two more games to Illinois on Wednesday, pushing its losing streak to seven games and dropping it to 8-10 in Big Ten play, was it the defense or offense to blame?

“Yes,” head coach Marla Looper said.

The Hawkeyes totaled eight hits on Wednesday in losing the day’s first game, 8-2, and the second, 6-2. And while the team only recorded one official error, there were several bobbles and mental mistakes that allowed the Illini’s speedy small-ball game to thrive.

“We put ourselves in a hole defensively, so the offense has got to really trudge hard to get back,” Looper said. “You can’t do the things we like to do — squeeze, steal, bunt and run — when you need 5 or 6 runs. When it’s neck and neck, it’s a whole different ball game.”

In the day game’s first inning, center fielder Ashley Akers fumbled a ball rolling in the outfield, resulting in a double and the game’s first two runs. In the second inning of the nightcap, Akers again bobbled a rolling ball, and another run scored. In that same inning, a wild pitch from Chelsea Lyon allowed another runner to cross the plate.

In the fourth inning, Illinois second basemen Danielle Zymkowitz reached on an infield single, and shortstop Chelsey Carmody committed an error in the next at-bat. That put two Illini on base, and shortstop Jessica Davis brought them home with a double.

“We knew coming in that they were going to take advantage of any miscues,” catcher Liz Watkins said. “And that’s what we saw today.”

Zymkowitz was the leader of Illinois’ small-ball attack. She was 6-for-8 on the day with five RBIs, and she repeatedly put pressure on Iowa’s defense with her blazing speed. In the seventh inning of the first game, the second basemen hit a line drive down the left field line. When outfielder Jenny Schuelke misplayed it, Zymkowitz got all the way around the base paths for an inside-the-park home run.

Looper called that hit “deflating.”

“She’s going to wreak havoc on the bases,” the first-year coach said. “She wasn’t intimidated, she didn’t care, and she killed us today. She really hurt us.”

The sweep was the continuation of a downward spiral that began when the team blew a seventh-inning lead that would have given them a sweep of No. 1 Michigan. Looper said that game may have cost the team some confidence.

Hawkeye players spoke of a need to recapture whatever it was that allowed them to beat the Wolverines.

“You get to a certain point where you can’t be disappointed anymore,” she said. “You have to have a short memory. We were on a good note in the Michigan series. Somehow, we lost that energy. If we get that back, we’ll be good.”

Watkins, who walked three times on the day but struck out with the bases loaded in the second game, agreed.

“We’re disappointed,” she said. “That’s not Hawkeye softball. We really need to find a way to get ‘us’ back.”

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