Softball gets help from freshmen in exhibition


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Tor Hawley had played at Pearl Field before. A native of Eldridge, Iowa, she played high-school postseason games at the Hawkeye softball team’s home field.

But it never felt like this.

“It’s completely different when you’re in the [Iowa] uniform,” Hawley said.

And for a while, those differences made her life difficult.

The freshman said she struggled during the three days the team practiced before facing Iowa Central Community College. Those problems continued in her first at-bat of Iowa’s “Fall Ball” exhibition opener on Sept. 9 — she struck out.

But when Hawley stepped up to bat in the seventh inning with the game tied, she hit a line drive to right-center field. Two runs scored, giving Iowa the lead for good in a 7-4 victory.

She said that after the difficult week, she adjusted her approach and trusted her instincts in the game-winning at-bat.

“This week, I’ve been in my head too much and thinking way too much,” she said. “I went up there and I was like, ‘Just see the ball and hit it.’ And I think that helped relax me.”

Senior catcher Liz Watkins, who tied the game with an RBI one batter earlier, said it was encouraging to see a freshman come through late in a game.

“It’s great to see she doesn’t put too much pressure on herself,” Watkins said. “That’s great to see in our first game — different people stepping up to the plate and getting it done.”

Hawley wasn’t the only freshman to make an impact on a game in which Iowa’s coaching staff emphasized giving experience to young players and trying people in new positions. In the fifth inning, infielder Melanie Gladden hit a hard grounder at Iowa Central’s pitcher, who couldn’t field the ball cleanly. Two runs scored on the play, giving the Hawkeyes a 3-2 lead.

Eight new faces appear on Iowa’s roster this season, including four freshmen. Hawley and Gladden drove in runs, and fellow first-year Hawkeyes Megan Blank and Sydney Reynolds each recorded a hit in the game.

Stephanie Ochoa and Chelsey Carmody, two of the Hawkeyes’ three best hitters last season, are gone. The team’s newcomers will have to contribute immediately if Iowa hopes to improve on its 27-24 record last year.

Head coach Marla Looper said the freshmen can gain confidence being relied upon to play well right away.

“We try not to use the word ‘freshmen,’ ” Looper said. “We don’t want them to feel like they’re freshmen. Whoever comes in this program is expected to come in and contribute. That gives them a little confidence, and then they’ll probably come through in clutch situations.”

Looper said she was pleased with how the newcomers played after having been with the team for just a week.

“They all had their moments,” the second-year head coach said. “They got chances everywhere, and they made things happen when we needed it.”

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