Hawkeye softball struggling to hit against conference foes

BY CODY GOODWIN | APRIL 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa softball coach Marla Looper had her team huddled in left field after its March 30 3-0 loss to Wisconsin. They stood out there listening to Looper’s words, trying to figure out what went wrong.

That loss to the Badgers (27-4, 5-1 Big Ten) was the seventh in 10 games for Iowa (20-13, 1-5). A season that began with a blistering 17-6 pace — including five wins over teams ranked among the top 25 — has now been littered with questions about what exactly is causing this current slump.

It might be hard to pinpoint one specific reason, but Looper knows part of her team’s woes have stemmed from the lack of offensive production.

“We’re our biggest limiting factor right now,” Looper said. “We didn’t allow ourselves to put runs on the board. We got runners on, we were fighting toward the end, but those who came up in times of need, they got a little internal, and we need to find a way to get that monkey off their back.”

Iowa’s hitting numbers have seen a sharp decline since opening its conference schedule. In six league games — two three-game sets against Minnesota and Wisconsin — the Hawkeyes have had just seven base runners cross home plate. Iowa is 1-5 during those six games.

In the seven games prior to facing their Big Ten foes, the Black and Gold amassed 45 runs, leading to a 5-2 record, including a 6-2 victory over then-No. 11 Louisville.

This scoring slump has not come without reason. Iowa hitters have had to face two of the conferences’ toughest pitchers in four of their last six games. Minnesota’s Sara Moulton and Wisconsin’s Cassandra Darrah — whose season ERAs are 1.45 and 1.37, respectively — spent much of their time in the circle stifling the Hawkeyes during their at-bats.

Moulton had two victories over Iowa in that three-game set, allowing just 4 runs and striking out 10 batters in 14 innings of work. Darrah split her starts against Iowa, tossing 15.1 innings and allowed just 2 runs with 14 strikeouts.

“Give them their credit. They’re good pitchers,” Iowa’s shortstop Megan Blank said. “But we’re also really good hitters. Whenever you get up to the box, you need to have that confidence that you can beat anyone, no matter what … That’s what makes you a good hitter.”

Blank’s offensive numbers have also been sputtering since conference play began. The sophomore from Culver City, Calif., leads the conference in RBIs with 38 but has tallied just 1 in her last six games.

Iowa’s other two leading hitters — center fielder Johnnie Dowling and pitcher Kayla Massey — haven’t been nearly as productive since the beginning of league play, either. Dowling and Massey have knocked in just 2 runs collectively after combining for 32 in the games prior to the Minnesota series.

Massey, much liker her teammates and coach, said it is primarily the team’s mindset that has created the midseason slide. A change of mindset, she said, will likely play into the solution to the problem.

“We need to go in with different mindsets,” Massey said. “We all feed off each other. As long as one person starts going, it gets the ball rolling.

“We’re just waiting to time that back up.”

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