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Iowa's contact pitchers to face Missouri's stikeout throwers

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | MARCH 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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An out is an out to the Iowa softball team. A strikeout is the same as a ground ball, pop-up, foul ball, or pickoff; an out is an out.

Iowa (10-13) has tallied more errors than No. 10 Missouri (20-3) in the preconference season, but the Hawkeyes enter Wednesday's two-game series with two contact pitchers instead of strikeout hurlers. Iowa has committed 7 more errors than the Tigers but has put the ball in play a lot more.

Pitchers Kayla Massey and Chelsea Lyon rely on their team's defense to take care of balls put into play instead of straddling the risky line between strikeouts and walks.

"We're not strikeout pitchers, and that's not how we're going to attack every hitter," head coach Marla Looper said. "The worst-case scenario is we get a ground ball. I know the defense is going to play defense there."

Massey's team-leading 1.80 ERA includes only 49 strikeouts. Missouri's ace pitcher, Iowa native Chelsea Thomas, boasts a 0.59 ERA with 82 strikeouts in fewer innings.

But Iowa has tallied more putouts than the Tigers. The Hawkeyes' leading fielder, second baseman Katie Keim, has tallied 193 putouts. Missouri's team-leading Jenna Marston only has 122 to her name.

"It's exciting to have contact pitchers on our team," Keim said. "As an infielder, you always want the ball. We get as many grounders as we want."

Massey and Lyon agreed Iowa's contact-based pitching strategy takes away the pressure to shut every single batter down. Instead of taking the burden completely on their shoulders, Massey and Lyon have learned to trust that their fielders' gloves will find everything coming off an opponent's bat.

"The pressure is completely off of the pitcher," Lyon said. "Obviously, there's still pressure as to where to put the pitches, but if you put the pitches where you want them to be, then they'll either be grounders or pop-ups. To know that my defense is back there and they have everything behind me is great."

Massey also dominated as a fielder from the circle last season. She was responsible — either by strikeout, caught infield flies, or plays to first — for 40 percent of the team's outs in a game on April 16. She led the team last year with a perfect fielding percentage, tallying an impressive 4 put-outs and 53 assists.

The sophomore still has her 1.000 fielding percentage this year, and she has racked up 4 put-outs and 26 assists in only 23 games.

Defensive coach Adrianna Baggetta purposely hits hard line drives at Massey and Lyon in practice to improve the hurler's reflexes and fielding skills.

"We've worked really hard with Coach Baggetta hitting rockets right back at the pitchers," catcher Liz Watkins said. "If a ball is hit right up the middle, I have complete confidence that somebody's going to get it. Even if the pitchers just tick it off their glove, the rest of infield has been all over the place. Stuff just isn't getting through the infield."

Despite being only 45 feet away from the plate, Massey said she's not intimidated by line drives that can come back at her in a fraction of a second. Instead, she's motivated to catch them or stop them with her body so she can throw to first.

An out is an out, she said.

"If I can help [the infield] as much as possible — if I can field all the little stuff the comes off my pitches — then they can move back a little bit and catch more line drives that are harder," she said. "If I can take care of the shorter stuff, it's a lot easier for the team … As long as it doesn't come at my face, I will be more that willing to sacrifice a body part to get an out."

Follow DI softball reporter Molly Irene Olmstead on Twitter.


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