Hawkeye softball lineup shows consistency

BY BEN ROSS | APRIL 13, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Nebraska Cornhuskers will take Pearl Field for the first time as Big Ten foes this weekend in a three-game series against the Iowa softball team.

The last time these two squads faced was in a 2006 postseason regional tournament game. The Huskers shut out the Black and Gold, 1-0.

The Iowa players will be unaccustomed to Nebraska softball, but the coaches lack no experience in facing the Cornhuskers. Head coach Marla Looper spent 11 seasons at the University of Texas before coming to Iowa in the fall of 2010, and she saw plenty of the Scarlet and Cream when the two schools served as members of the Big 12 conference.

"I saw them a lot, so I probably know a little more about them than our team or staff does," Looper said. "They're always tough. They always have very good pitching — they definitely have an ace with [Ashley] Hagemann."

The Hawkeyes have seen their fair share of dominating pitchers. Wisconsin's Cassandra Darrah pitched all 20 innings of a three-game series between the two squads on March 24-25, going 2-1 against Iowa. The team also faced Illini hurler Pepper Gay in two contests, winning both against the pitcher who owns the third-best ERA in the conference.

Hagemann is the first real strikeout pitcher Iowa will face this season; the senior leads the Big Ten in the category with 224 Ks.

There is one thing that could play to the advantage of Hawkeye batters, though.

The Iowa softball team has had the luxury of consistency so far. The lineup has remained largely unchanged since the conference-opener against the Badgers. The only thing that has differed is the batting order, which has undergone minor switches from game to game.

The past lineups have featured four new faces to the Iowa team — freshmen Melanie Gladden and Megan Blank and transfer students Malloree Grove and Bradi Wall. The other five spots are taken up by multiyear starters.

Expecting to start and play throughout an entire game could be a considered a bad attitude for an athlete to carry, but senior captain Katie Keim said it's not necessarily a negative mindset. She said she thinks everyone on the team has those thoughts going into a game because of the way they are coached.

"It's just having that mindset and being ready to play wherever coaches decide," Keim said. "I think our coaches use the whole team. Basically, everyone has that mentality — people come and pinch hit and contribute."

Looper maintains that every player has an equal opportunity to start. Many of her players said they know they should always be ready to play.

Iowa has shown some brief glimpses of elite softball at the plate and in the field, despite its mediocre conference record (5-4). This could be why Blank said she thinks the lineup has remained largely untouched.

"We know what everyone can do," the shortstop said. "With our lineup, we know who the hitters are in front of you and who they are behind you. We know the power and the speed of the lineup and how that's ordered.

"We know what's going to get done."

Follow DI softball reporter Ben Ross on Twitter.

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