Iowa softball looks to rebound against tough Badger pitching

BY CODY GOODWIN | MARCH 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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Megan Blank couldn’t find an answer. She and her teammates were excited — she used the words “pretty pumped” — for last weekend’s home-opening softball series with Minnesota. But after the Golden Gophers swept the Hawkeyes in a two-day span, there wasn’t much, if anything, she could say on the matter.

“I don’t know if it was jitters — maybe a little bit of jitters,” Blank said, struggling to find an exact reason for the sweep. “We still don’t really know exactly what happened.” That humbling experience gave the Black and Gold an opportunity to refocus and recollect themselves for this weekend’s series against an even tougher Big Ten foe in Wisconsin (25-3, 3-0 Big Ten).

Much of Iowa’s distress came from its lack of offensive execution against the Golden Gophers — the Hawks were outscored 21-5 over the three-game series, despite being fairly even in total hits. The Hawkeyes (19-11, 0-3) left 28 runners stranded over the course of the series against Minnesota. This was a particular focus during this week’s practice. Iowa softball coach Marla Looper made sure her team placed an emphasis on the fundamentals. Getting back to the basics, she said, will ultimately help her team execute when the opportunity arises.

“It’s not going and reinventing the wheel,” Looper said. “It’s doing exactly what we’ve been doing every week. We have to get back on that horse and ride it, and not just trot. We have to kick it into high gear to make up for those three games where we struggled and put more runs on the board. “If we fix that, I think we change the results.”

This task will not be an easy one. The Hawkeyes will likely go to bat against Wisconsin junior Cassandra Darrah. The Corydon, Iowa, native was the starting pitcher in all three games last season against the Hawkeyes — she struck out 10 batters in 20 total innings pitched — and picked up two victories along the way. Darrah is much improved this season. She’ll take a 15-1 record into the circle with 13 complete games. She’s struck out 82 batters this season through 112.1 innings and has pitched to the tune of a 1.43 ERA. That average is the second lowest in the conference for pitchers who have tossed more than 100 innings to this point in the season.

This seemingly daunting challenge will likely be the perfect test for an Iowa team that’s ready to claw out of a self-inflicted hole. This newly refocused group is ready to again become, as Looper put it, “the hunter” after being hunted themselves last weekend, and even beyond — the Hawkeyes have lost five of their last seven games before today’s matchup. Perhaps that lowly record will be enough to snap this Iowa team back into the team that has earned five victories over top-25 teams this season.

“I heard a lot of things from various people that we didn’t look like the same team on the field [against Minnesota],” team captain Johnnie Dowling said. “Maybe we didn’t prepare as well as what we would’ve liked. We’re trying to refocus and go into this weekend with a new mindset and owning the field.”

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