Down in the count no problem for Hawkeye softball

BY BEN ROSS | MARCH 30, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa softball team (11-17, 1-2 Big Ten) will have to clean up its hitting this weekend if it hopes to have a chance when Illinois (16-11, 2-1) comes to town.

The Hawkeyes dropped two of three to Wisconsin last weekend despite scattering 20 hits over the course of three games on March 24 and Sunday. Iowa was shut out in the first game and scored 4 runs in a each contest of a two-game split.

Iowa freshman Tor Hawley pinch hit with two on to record a 2-run triple, her first hit of her Hawkeye career, in the second game of a double-header on Sunday.

"I think we're reaching for more consistent hitting throughout the game," Hawley said. "You can definitely practice [clutch hitting] but it's more mental than anything."

Hawley's slap tied the score at 3 before Liz Watkins was hit by a pitch to push the winning run across the plate.

Sunday's game featured some power hitting from the Hawkeye bats, but that doesn't always yield scoring. Senior Katie Keim bombed a 3-run homer to cut into the Badgers' lead, but Wisconsin continued to build on its scoring while the Iowa offense sputtered.

Freshman Melanie Gladden launched a triple in the middle of the second inning, but she was left stranded as Wisconsin pitcher Cassandra Darrah retired the rest of the Hawkeye lineup. Both triples last weekend came off the bats of freshmen.

Gladden is confident that the team's hitting will become a strength, but she said the big swings need to be converted into more runs.

"I think it will come all together," the Oklahoma native said. "We'll hit like we're capable of sooner or later. We need to get hits early to help our pitching and need to get hits at the end to top it all off."

Iowa struggled to turn bases into runs against Wisconsin; Darrah started and finished all three games, going 21 innings and tossing 319 pitches. Iowa couldn't figure Darrah out the entire weekend, and it will have another tough time against Illini pitcher Pepper Gay; the junior has posted an 11-4 record and an 1.53 ERA.

One thing Iowa has been doing well at the plate is working the pitch count. Sloppy Iowa strikeouts were rare in the contests against Wisconsin, as Darrah was forced to spend a little over four pitches per Hawkeye plate appearance and only sat down 10 Hawkeyes on strikes.

Iowa head coach Marla Looper said she has stressed the importance of hitting in practices and discussed how pitch selection results in big hits for her squad. She said very little strategy actually goes into her preparation for games and that frequent changes in lineups aren't a bad thing.

"The times when we've gotten those big hits [are] when they've gotten themselves deep in the count by fouling pitches off," she said. "That's how we got those opportunities, because we got deeper in the count and worked the count … We have to be the aggressor; our challenge is to get up early, score runs often, and then shut the door."

Follow DI softball reporter Ben Ross on Twitter.

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