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Iowa softball walks past Illinois

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | APRIL 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa softball team registered 7 hits off Illinois pitcher Pepper Gay on Sunday, but none of them helped the Hawkeyes win.

The final contest of a three-game series was scoreless for 10 innings until three-consecutive walks loaded the bases for Iowa.

Melanie Gladden dug in with two outs and worked the count full. She watched a ball pass by low and outside, forcing in Katie Keim to win in the bottom of the 10th.

The Hawkeyes (14-17; 4-2 Big Ten) swept the series, winning 5-1 and 9-1 in six innings in a March 31 double-header. Iowa then used the walk-off walk to win a 1-0 game on Sunday.

Gay walked 16 Hawkeyes in two games over the weekend; Illini pitcher Jackie Guy didn't allow any walks in six innings, and freshman Shelese Arnold only gave free passes to two batters.

"Walks were really important because she was throwing a lot of wild pitches," said Keim, who walked three times in her five plate appearances on Sunday. "We were waiting for our pitch. It was really good to walk, because it got people on base when we needed it."

Three-consecutive walks spurred a 5-run Iowa rally in the fourth inning of the first game, which ended up being the only scoring opportunity for the Hawkeyes. Designated player Brianna Luna battled at the plate and drew a 10-pitch walk, and Gladden walked on four straight pitches. Michelle Zoeller entered the game as a pinch hitter and also drew a walk on four pitches.

Leadoff hitter Johnnie Dowling hit a 2-RBI double and advanced to third when the Illini committed a throwing error while trying to throw Zoeller out at home. Ashley Akers stepped up and hit a single to bring Dowling home. Akers stole second before Blank hammered a line-drive triple that allowed Akers to plate the fifth run of the inning.

"Walks win ball games, or they lose ball games," Iowa coach Marla Looper said on Sunday. "Walks are deadly in our game. It showed again today as well as yesterday, that when they put a lot of runners on for free, it just takes one little hit in the gap, and then runners start scoring."

Gay stifled the Hawkeyes' explosive offense in Sunday's outing, limiting them to seven hits and pitching out of bases-loaded situations three times. But Iowa's smart batting and ability to get on base handed the Hawkeyes their fourth Big Ten victory of the season.

Gay started throwing to the outside corners of the plate and continued to pitch progressively farther from the center of the zone. The Illini struck out Luna with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th inning on Sunday by making her chase a ball outside.

Gladden said she realized what Gay was doing, though, and stepped into the batter's box prepared to let those outside pitches pass by. She said she was waiting for "her pitch" during that at-bat, but she never got it — so she took the walk.

"I knew I needed to get to first base," Gladden said. "And I know that as long as I got to first base, we would score that run."

Gladden started her at-bat with two balls before looking at a strike. She fouled off four pitches in the nine-pitch at-bat before getting her fourth ball for the RBI walk.

Looper praised her batters for sticking in the box and battling through long at-bats to come out with a free pass to first base. She said she wished her team would have found a hole in the Illinois defense earlier in the game, but wasn't disappointed in winning by a walk-off walk.

"A walk is a run at that point," she said. "I don't care if it's a hit or if it's ball four. We just have to get that run on the board."

Follow DI softball reporter Molly Irene Olmstead on Twitter.


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