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Iowa softball players struggling with power numbers

BY BEN ROSS | APRIL 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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The crack of a bat and a ball flying over a deep outfield fence can change a softball game in a split second.

Six members of the Iowa softball team have combined to hit 12 home runs so far in 2012; the Hawkeyes are second-to-last in the Big Ten in the statistic. Illinois takes the bottom spot with 10 round-trippers, and Minnesota is first with 37.

Senior captain Katie Keim leads Iowa with 5 dingers, already one more than she had all last season. The first baseman said she thinks hitting a home run is just as important for team morale as it is for putting runs on the board.

"It could be a game changer, and it can also set the mood for your team," Keim said. "It's a great feeling. I don't know how to explain it; it's just having that feeling you scored a run just from one hit."

Only two Hawkeyes besides Keim — sophomore Brianna Luna and freshman Melanie Gladden — have hit at least 2. Megan Blank, Malloree Grove, and Liz Watkins each have single shots.

Watkins led the team last year with 10 wallops. She now has 24 for her career, which is good for a tie with current assistant coach Stacy May-Johnson for fourth place on Iowa's all-time list. The catcher expressed frustration with her lack of power hitting so far, but she said hitting safely is as important as hitting the long ball.

"It's more important just to get a base hit, but home runs are assets to the softball game," she said. "It kind of just happens. I don't know anyone who just goes up and swings for the fence. If you go up with the mindset you're going to hit the long ball, it usually doesn't happen."

While the Hawkeyes may not approach at-bats with power on their minds, some players — such as Gladden — do showcase rituals they think give them an advantage at the plate.

The third baseman from Asher, Okla., is the only Hawkeye that doesn't wear batting gloves. She rubs dirt on her hands before stepping up to face a pitcher and sometimes repeats the action between offerings.

Gladden said the ritual is something she picked up during her tee-ball days.

"It's what I've always done; it's what I like to do," she said. "[Rubbing dirt on my hands] allows me to get a little better grip on my bat."

Head softball coach Marla Looper said she thinks hitting home runs isn't all that important — and while that may be true, there's no denying the impact a big hit can have on the dugout. She said she thinks the whole team benefits when a batter hits a souvenir ball

"I don't feel you can expect them; they just happen," Looper said. "It's pretty exciting … and it should be; they love when someone has that chance or opportunity."


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