Road tests loom for Hawkeye softball

BY BEN ROSS | MAY 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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Just six Big Ten contests stand between the Iowa softball team and the end of the season.

Iowa took two out of three against Indiana (8-10 Big Ten) in the last home games of the year last weekend, and the Hawkeyes (12-6) will now travel to Ohio State (7-10) and Minnesota (7-11) to play each squad three times in the coming weekends.

Iowa goes into Columbus, Ohio, tied for fourth in the Big Ten with Wisconsin. Michigan holds a half-game lead in the conference over Purdue and Nebraska, both of which are tied for second with 12-5 league records.

The Black and Gold make up one of the hottest teams in conference at the moment; Iowa has won seven of its last eight Big Ten games and has emerged as the victor in its past three conference series.

But Iowa still has an overall losing record of 23-24, so it's unlikely the team could make a run at the postseason unless it wins out in the next six contests. The Hawkeyes will therefore try to carry their momentum into the remainder of their schedule, and head coach Marla Looper said past success could reflect on current performances from her players.

"We've got to be better in [keeping momentum]," she said. "We're too late in the season to be making some of the errors that we have … we've got to do better on the bases and allow ourselves to stay in ball games that way."

Looper is concerned about her team's errors, but her squad has fared well in the category compared with conference foes. Iowa is third-to-last in errors committed with 49. Michigan is second-to-last with 47, and Minnesota leads the Big Ten with just 39 miscues.

The Hawkeyes have developed favorable numbers in other categories as well. The squad is second in team ERA, as hurlers Chelsea Lyon and Kayla Massey have assembled a 2.30 ERA. It's also second in triples with 10, half of which belong to freshman Megan Blank. The shortstop is leading the conference in batting with a .409 average.

Assistant coach Stacy May-Johnson said she isn't concerned about her athletes' performances despite the looming back-to-back road trips. She said she thinks the location of the game makes little difference.

"We go about our business the way we always do," she said. "We prepare ourselves to play well, whether it's at home or on the road. We've put ourselves in a good position going into the last two weekends. We're one game out of first place; that's not a bad place to be with six games to go."

If the Hawkeyes have experience with anything this season, it's playing on the road. Only 15 of Iowa's 47 total games have been played at home. The squad played 27 away contests before its first in Iowa City, on March 24.

Senior captain Liz Watkins said she thinks her squad has the ability to win and that the experience of playing on the road could help her reach one of her final goals as a Hawkeye.

"We're trying to get that top Big Ten finish, and in order to do that, we need to win out from here on out," Watkins said. "It gets us closer to being able to go to postseason. Ultimately, that's what [fellow senior Katie Keim] and I want: to go to postseason our senior year.

"If we continue to play as … Hawkeye softball, we'll get the job done."

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