Speed dooms Iowa softball


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In the top of the seventh inning, a line drive to the fence kept Iowa left fielder Jenny Schuelke fumbling, and Illinois leadoff hitter Danielle Zymkowitz rounded the bases on inside-the-park home run.

Zymkowitz wasn’t the only speedy runner to take off on the Hawkeyes.

The Fighting Illini displayed their speed and outran Iowa, rounding the bases 14 times in a double-header on Wednesday at Pearl Field to defeat the Hawkeyes 8-2 in the opener and 6-2 in the nightcap.

In the first game, Illinois used three pinch runners, including two in the first inning, and all of them came around to score. The speed of the substitute runners, combined with two Illini stolen bases and two extra-bases hits, were major factors in Iowa’s first loss of the day.

“They were pretty quick,” head coach Marla Looper said and chuckled. “But they were also aggressive on the base path, and that’s where they got us.”

In the second game, the Hawkeyes came out strong in the first inning, keeping the Illinois runners off the base path with three fly-outs to the outfield. However, once an Illinois batter got on base in the second inning, the Fighting Illini took off again, scoring four runs on one hit.

With two runners on base in the second inning — one from a fielder’s choice and one from a walk — Ashley Akers bobbled a hard-hit grounder up the middle, and Illinois’ Vivi Castellanos scored from second base. Ashley Conrad then tallied a single, and Zymkowitz knocked in two base runnners with another single. Zymkowitz then stole second, and Conrad scored on a one hopper to second base from Hollie Pinchback.

Although the Hawkeyes only recorded one error in the two games, the Fighting Illini used their speed to take advantage of every slightly imperfect Hawkeye play.

“[Illinois] takes advantage of just putting the ball in play,” Looper said. “They found some gaps, some short hops, some slow hops. And we weren’t in the right spot, we weren’t there for a relay. Maybe they weren’t physical errors in the book, but in the coaches’ eyes and the players’ eyes, we made more than a couple bobbles.”

However, not every Illini runner advanced on mistakes from the Iowa fielders. Illinois tallied three stolen bases in the two games — two from Zymkowitz — while Ashley Akers recorded the only steal for the Hawkeyes in the second inning of the second game.

“I knew that [Zymkowitz] had speed just from playing against her previously,” catcher Liz Watkins said. “But she got on in the right situations when we had a runner at third, so we were going to let her take second so we could keep that runner at third versus get her out at second.”

In addition to the Illinois’ speed on the base paths, the Illini dominated at the plate, racking up 21 hits in the two games, compared with Iowa’s eight.

Freshman pitcher Kayla Massey pitched the first 32⁄3 innings of the first game. But after she threw nearly 100 pitches — only half of them strikes — and let the Illini snag eight hits, Chelsea Lyon entered in relief in the fourth.

Lyon pitched 81⁄3 innings in the two games and allowed 13 hits until she was relieved by Massey in the sixth inning.

“We knew coming in that Illinois could hit,” Lyon said. “But Illinois has the speed and the bats, which is what we need to acquire. We need to get the energy and the hits, and we just need to get ourselves back in the game and play like Illinois played today.”

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