Softball finishes regular season with Penn State split

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | MAY 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa softball team snapped a seven-game losing streak by avoiding the mistakes that had plagued it for weeks. But the mistakes returned Sunday, costing the team a sweep in what was likely its final series of the season.

The Hawkeyes committed zero errors, and sophomore pitcher Chelsea Lyon walked just one batter in a 1-0 win on May 7 at Pearl Field. Freshman Michelle Zoeller recorded a base hit in the seventh inning and scored the winning run from second base when shortstop Chelsey Carmody's grounder bounced off the glove of a Nittany Lion infielder.

Head coach Marla Looper said the end of the losing streak brought a "sigh of relief," and the team owed it to a more aggressive approach in the field.

"Our focus has been getting back to being aggressive, being assertive," Looper said on May 8. "We were really attacking the ball when they put it into play, and that's why we had such a good day today."

On Sunday, Looper said, the Hawkeyes "were back on their heels" on defense, and Penn State took advantage with several infield base hits.

Iowa led 2-1 in the fourth inning when Nittany Lion pitcher Jackie Hill hit an infield pop-up that Carmody couldn't quite reach before it hit the ground. Third basemen Lauren Rossi then hit a dribbler that traveled just a few feet down the third base line for another single. A walk loaded the bases for Penn State's Lisa Akamine, who hit a grounder to shortstop. Iowa forced a base runner out at third base, but couldn't prevent a run from scoring to tie the game.

First baseman Kayla Johnson then hit a grounder at Zoeller, who bobbled it. The error allowed another run to score, and Penn State took the lead.

"We needed to take care of stuff in the field," second basemen Katie Keim said. "The ball game would have been a little different."

Looper agreed.

"We gave up some piddly little infield hits because we sat back on the ball," the first-year head coach said. "That's what killed us."

But it wasn't the only thing hurting the Hawkeyes. Penn State forced three outs on the base paths, costing Iowa opportunities to score.

In the first inning, Iowa had the bases loaded with one out and Hill walked in a run. But that run was all Iowa got out of the inning.

Outfielder Johnnie Dowling struck out. Then, when senior Jenny Schuelke popped up to foul territory, senior first baseman Stephanie Ochoa began charging for home. But she ran into the fielder trying to make the catch and was called out for interference.

"With the bases loaded, something like that to get a third out takes a lot of momentum away," Schuelke said.

Keim was thrown out at home plate in the second inning. In the sixth, Schuelke was tagged out at third base.

Looper and Schuelke protested the call, and each insisted after the game Schuelke was safe. The Hawkeyes could have had runners on second and third with no outs but had to settle for an out and only Zoeller on second. They didn't score in the inning.

Now Iowa will wait to learn whether it receives an at-large bid to the postseason, but its 9-11 Big Ten record makes it unlikely.

The tears on the faces of the team's seniors after the game suggested they knew it would be their last game as Hawkeyes.

"This has been a second home to me," Carmody said. "I'm sad to see it go, but thankful for all it's given me."

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