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Watkins and Keim take Pearl for the last time

BY BEN ROSS | APRIL 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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Liz Watkins stayed around Pearl Field well after Thursday night's double-header was over.

She had little choice — the catcher was swarmed by young softball players from the Heartland Havoc team begging for her autograph on balls, shirts, and even a purse.

The young girls did their homework on their favorite player, too.

"I played for the Havoc, did you know that?" Watkins asked.

"Yes," was shrill-voiced reply from around a dozen autograph seekers.

There's one thing her loyal fan base likely doesn't know about the catcher, though.

Some athletes relax before competition by taking it easy on the days leading up to a big game; they'll stay in, maybe, order a pizza, and watch a movie with friends.

Watkins will take it easy the day before a double-header this weekend — but not by staying in or doing any conventional relaxation technique. Instead, she's going hunting with her dad.

Turkey hunting, to be exact. And she says she thinks it's the best way for her to calm her nerves.

"It's really relaxing," Watkins said. "It brings you down to earth. So I'm going to go home, sit in the woods with my dad tomorrow, and, hopefully, see a turkey or two."

After four years of calling Pearl Field home, Iowa softball's lone seniors — Watkins and Katie Keim — will play a three-game series for the last time in Iowa City.

Each captain has composed an impressive résumé during their time as Hawkeyes.

Keim is a two-time All-Big Ten selection and a four-year starter. The Chesterfield, Mo., was a regular starter at shortstop, third, and second base in her first two years; Keim became a staple at second during her junior campaign. She then made the switch to first base for her final season.

During her four years at Iowa, Keim started 195 games and appeared in all 201 opportunities.

Keim said she couldn't pick out one favorite memory during her time at Iowa but said she was glad to traverse her career alongside her fellow senior.

"We've been through a lot," Keim said. "Throughout the years, we've grown and become better ball players together."

Watkins has earned All-Big Ten recognition in her first three seasons at Iowa, and she has started 191 games behind the plate for the Black and Gold.

Watkins is currently third in school history with 27 home runs and sixth in runs batted in with 130.
The Taylor Ridge, Ill., native said her experiences with her teammates are among the things she will miss most about Iowa softball, and leaving her fans behind won't be an easy task.

"The fans are great, that's what makes Iowa softball — it's the fans," she said. "It will be a huge adjustment, but I just really appreciate everything they have done for me and my family, as well as the team."

Head softball coach Marla Looper joked in disbelief about the departure of her two seniors and said they're irreplaceable to the program.

"They've been cornerstones, really" she said. "Both of them have played the majority of their games while they've been here. When you have two people on the team that have type of confidence and leadership ability, it's hard to replace them. You'll never be able to fill those shoes, but those shoes will always be there.

"Especially Liz's. Her feet are big."

Follow DI softball reporter Ben Ross on Twitter.


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