Hawkeye softball finds confidence

BY BEN ROSS | APRIL 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa softball team was able to find a groove this past weekend against visiting Illinois, plating 15 total runs in a three-game series with the Illini. Iowa took all three matchups to improve its conference record to 4-2.

Illinois started Pepper Gay in the first game of a double-header on March 31. The junior came in with an 11-4 record and 99 strikeouts, but she wasn't able to match her previous successes in Iowa City. She was pulled in favor of reliever Jackie Guy after giving up 5 runs on 3 hits in 104 pitches over four innings.

Iowa head coach Marla Looper said forcing the starter out of the game early built confidence in her players, and that success can be contagious.

"It's huge — she's one of the better pitchers in the league," Looper said. "Confidence brings confidence, success breeds success. When you get on that train, you ride it."

Iowa carried its busy bats over to the second game of the double-header and plated 9 runs in a mercy-rule win. The Hawkeyes forced Guy to retire after the fourth inning after she was shelled for 6 runs on 6 hits, including home runs from freshman Melanie Gladden and sophomore Malloree Grove. Shelese Arnold came in and pitched 1 2/3 innings to replace Guy; the freshman gave up 3 runs on 5 hits.

Hawkeye sophomore Brianna Luna was particularly successful against Illinois' pitchers, reaching base 6 times in 11 plate appearances. Luna echoed her coach's sentiments on building confidence, saying the fortitude her team showed relaxed the nerves in the dugout. That further added to the success, she said.

"It was fun; it was a definite confidence-builder," she said. "We were relaxing a lot more and hitting the ball like we know we could."

Gay was able to regain her composure for Sunday's contest, though. She held Iowa scoreless through seven innings, forcing the game into extra frames. It took 208 pitches for her to falter; she walked Gladden with the bases loaded to push Katie Keim across for a walk-off walk in the 10th inning.

Gay said she was ready to continue pitching even after Sunday's prolonged contest and the only difference in her two performances was accuracy.

"I wasn't throwing strikes [on March 31]," she said. "Today, I wanted to come out and be more aggressive with the batters. All my pitches were working; all the pitches [I threw] yesterday were just more accurate today. [My pitching arm] is fine, I could throw more … I'm just disappointed it ended."

Looper commended Gay on her performance and said she was confident her own starter, Chelsea Lyon, could have gone back to toss the 11th inning with a growing pitch count.

"That's how fast-pitch softball used to be played," she said. "… I've seen [that many pitches thrown] but not in 10 innings. It's gone 16, 17, 18, 19 innings. [Gay] throws a lot a pitches; unfortunately for her, it wears on you.

"It's Chelsea's ball game to lose at that point … you've been holding them, sticking it to them, and as a pitcher you want that confidence from your staff and team. When you're in a rhythm, you have to stick with it."

Follow DI softball reporter Ben Ross on Twitter.

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