Newcomers' bats surging for Iowa softball

BY BEN ROSS | APRIL 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa softball team was clicking on all cylinders this past weekend as the Hawkeyes swept Illinois in a three-game series at Pearl Field in Iowa City.

Iowa saw production throughout the lineup, as the squad recorded 15 runs on 23 hits over the weekend.

But performances from three unlikely individuals stood out from the rest.

Freshmen Melanie Gladden and Megan Blank, and sophomore transfer Malloree Grove exhibited excellent discipline at the plate this past weekend, and set the learning curve for other rookies in the Iowa softball program.

Blank capped off a 5-run fifth inning in the first game of the series with an RBI triple — her second three-bagger of the season — in a 5-1 win.

"It's nothing too different from playing high-school or travel ball," Blank said of her transition to Division-I softball. "It's a team sport, so everyone feeds off each other. Everyone was seeing the ball really well and things were working."

The second game was a showcase of Gladden's and Grove's talents, too.

Grove, who transferred from Creighton at the beginning of the season, sent a solo home run over the left-field wall in the third inning to make Iowa's lead 3-0. The jack was her first as a Hawkeye.

Gladden took a page out of Grove's book by hitting her first collegiate homer in the fifth, a two-run pump that pushed Iowa's lead to 6-1.

Blank recorded a double and another triple — which clinched the 8-run mercy-rule win for the Hawkeyes — in the second game of a doubleheader on March 31.

The trio was mostly quiet at the plate in the third game of the series on Sunday, and the game was scoreless for almost 10 full innings. Grove was 2-for-4 at the plate and notched her second multi-hit game of the season, but offensively the game was defined by a walk.

Gladden went up to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the 10th.

She was able to secure herself as the hero of the day — not with her bat, but with her patience. The freshman from Asher, Okla., waited until Illinois starting pitcher Pepper Gay threw her 208th pitch of the day, a ball-four call for a walk-off walk that sent senior Katie Keim across home.

Gladden said patience helped her hitting this past weekend, and that she was confident she would get the pitch she wanted to see.

"I just wait for the pitch I want to take," Gladden said. "You'll eventually get it if you keep working hard; [the pitcher] will get tired and you'll get the pitch you want."

The three newcomers finished the weekend with 9 hits and 8 RBI combined, a stat line head coach Marla Looper said wasn't surprising despite the learning curve each player has faced.

"We stopped using the "F-word" — freshmen — … because we don't expect them to go through those freshman slumps and learning processes," Looper said. "We expect them to step up and be ready to contribute; we put them in scenarios where they have to produce. We use the "N-word" — newcomers — and we know they're going to contribute. We have expectations through the roof for them, and they know that."

Follow DI softball reporter Ben Ross on Twitter.

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