Iowa role player makes the most of her lone at-bat

BY CODY GOODWIN | APRIL 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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The current owner of the Big Ten’s best batting average will likely sit the bench this season more than she takes the field or swings a bat.

This is a bit deceiving, because Malloree Grove has only gone to bat once this season.

“One at-bat, one bomb,” she said, laughing.

This softball season hasn’t gone exactly how Grove had planned it. She’s seen playing time just seven times in 2013 after starting 28 games for the Hawkeyes last season.

One of those appearances — a fifth-inning pinch-hitting opportunity during what ended up an 18-0 Iowa victory over Drake on April 3 — saw Grove make the most of her lone showing at the plate.

The Hawkeye junior connected on a 3-2 pitch, and sent the ball flying over the left-center wall for a grand slam.

“I figured she’d be somewhere close to the zone,” Grove said. “I just went out and hit it, and was like, ‘Oh that’s pretty cool.’ You expect to hit like that once you’re at this level.”

The Indianola native’s grand slam was just her 14th career hit with the Black and Gold. She’s tallied two doubles, a triple, and two home runs — Grove’s first home run was a solo shot on March 31 of last season in a 9-1 victory over Illinois.

Iowa softball coach Marla Looper admitted that Grove wasn’t one of the team’s stronger hitters. Grove hits a modest .212 and has gone to bat just 66 times in her Hawkeye career.

The third-year head coach instead uses Grove more so for defense, which is advantageous for a couple of reasons. Grove provides versatility in the infield, where Iowa isn’t particularly deep in any one position.

“If someone went down, we need to have someone to fill in that role. And she fills that backup infield spot,” Looper said. “It’s a tough position to be in, but we know that when she goes in, it’s because her team really needs her in there at that time.”

Looper said it’s important to be a role player because “you have to be just as prepared as the starter is.” It’s a next-man-in type of mentality. This can be difficult for some athletes and easier for others.

Grove has an edge over the other role players in Iowa’s lineup. She brought plenty of experience to the Iowa program as a sophomore after playing for Creighton during her freshman year. Grove also played for three different club softball teams — the Kansas City Extreme, the St. Louis Mizuno, and Iowa Pride — during her prep years.

Wearing that many different ball caps over the course of a career will expose any softball player to many unique looks, both offensively and defensively. That experience helps when Grove finally takes to the field to contribute.

“It just shows how deep this team runs,” starting third basemen Michelle Zoeller said of Grove’s grand slam. “Having someone, who doesn’t typically start, come up and hit home runs, it shows the depth of this team, that anybody be put on this field and how much of a contribution everybody plays into being successful.”

Looper saw Grove’s at-bat against Drake as another opportunity and was happy to watch her capitalize.

“You hurt for [the players] when they get a shot, and they don’t have the success they want,” Looper said. “You want them to have that opportunity to have the end result that everyone wants. The grand slam just happened.

“You have to make the most of that opportunity, and she did just that that day.”

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