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Iowa softball hopes to continue Big Ten sweeps

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | APRIL 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa softball team's loss to Drake on Wednesday set the Hawkeyes back another game from reaching their goal of finishing .500 or better.

Other goals suffered, too, including a shot at a Big Ten championship, an NCAA Tournament appearance, and the best finish in the program since 2009.

Iowa now has to get back on track after Wednesday's setback — a loss head coach Marla Looper called "frustrating" — and compete well against Northwestern this weekend to boost its 14-18 record.

Looper intentionally padded Iowa's preconference season with eight top-25 teams, and her team entered the league slate with a 10-15 record. The pressure is on for the Iowa to win much more often than it loses in a competitive Big Ten field.

The Hawkeyes need to win at least 13 of their remaining 21 games to finish with a .500 record and have a chance at the College World Series.

"I haven't been [in the playoffs] since freshman season," senior catcher Liz Watkins said. "… It's really important, to be above .500. It's a good benchmark, but we'd like to be better."

This weekend's series against Northwestern will be crucial for Iowa's momentum and confidence in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes lost a series to Wisconsin, 2-1, in their conference-opener, then swept Illinois their next time out.

"We do know this is the time of the year that we can make that shift in record and rise with our schedule," Looper said. "… These conference games are the time [the Hawkeyes] know they can really make a push for that conference championship."

But senior captain Katie Keim said the team needs to take that attitude and apply it more to midweek games like the contest against Drake.

"I like playing either way," Keim said. "I'm used to all types of games. A break in middle of the school week is nice, and with three-game series on the weekend — that's what we're here to do, play softball."

A multi-game series can create a sense of momentum, which in turn can give the Hawkeyes a little extra push toward claiming wins.

Iowa swept Northwestern last season in two games. The Hawkeyes won an 10-8 decision in the eighth inning of the first game on a Johnnie Dowling walk-off home run, then used the momentum from that win to claim a 9-7 victory.

But the conference has reformatted Big Ten play into three-game series instead of two-game sets, and Looper said she believes Iowa can benefit even more from momentum and use that to boost its record past .500.

"It's actually kind of a positive for our record [to compete in the Big Ten]," Looper said. "… If you get on a roll and are able to sweep the series, then that's three quick games right in the weekend that you can get those games back you lost earlier in the year."

Follow DI softball reporter Molly Irene Olmstead on Twitter.


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