Iowa softball struggles with getting base runners home

BY CODY GOODWIN | APRIL 23, 2013 5:00 AM

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It’s safe to say Marla Looper didn’t expect her Hawkeye softball team to have a 4-11 record in conference play at this point in the season. This time last year, the squad had racked up 10 wins in the Big Ten.

After winning just two of its first nine Big Ten games of the 2013 season, Looper’s squad appeared to have rebounded after taking two of three from Northwestern. The momentum proved fleeting, however, as the Hawkeyes followed that performance by being swept by Michigan this past weekend.

The frequent run deficits the team has been posting share a common theme. It’s not that Iowa isn’t reaching base — it’s averaged nearly 7 hits per outing. It’s that the Hawkeyes can’t seem to move their athletes around the bases to score.

“Unfortunately, it’s just one of those things where it is what it is,” Looper said. “You just hope that timely hitting can creep in there.”

Since the beginning of conference play, the Hawkeyes have left 124 runners on base, compared with getting 55 around to score.

Without the three-game set at Northwestern on April 12-14 — in which Iowa scored 30 runs and left 34 on base — the Black and Gold have scored just 25 runs in the other 12 conference games this season.

Twenty-two of those stranded runners came this weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich., against just 9 Iowa runs.

Looper admits there is no specific antidote to cure these woes. But what she’s seen in the past few weeks might show that the problem stems from two different issues.

“You have an opponent that’s trying to keep you from [hitting and scoring runs], and sometimes we have an opponent within ourselves, within our minds, not letting us succeed and excel,” Looper said. “There are some mental challenges there.”

It’s true the Hawkeyes’ competition has been top-notch recently. Black and Gold hitters faced Nebraska’s Emily Lockman in each of the two losses to the Huskers. Lockman’s current earned run average sits at 1.48.

Minnesota’s Sara Moulton also did her part in shutting down the Iowa hitters, allowing just 4 runs over two games, notching victories in both. Moulton’s season ERA currently sits at 1.50.

Both of those ERAs currently rank among the top 30 in the country.

But the mental challenges Looper spoke of aren’t measured by statistics. They become harder to fix because each issue might have to be tailored differently to each athlete.

“Just better pitch selection,” Megan Blank said last week. “It’s knowing the situation and knowing what you have to do to move the runner an extra base to make it easier to score the run. It’s just pitch selection and driving the ball where it’s pitched as opposed to trying to do too much.”

Both Blank and Looper have been aware of the mental issues, and have often preached that solving the issue might have something to do with remembering when each player was hitting the ball well.

Perhaps seeing that positivity in today’s double-header against Illinois could help turn around these hitting woes.

“Our whole team was seeing the ball really well,” Johnnie Dowling said after winning the Northwestern series on April 16. “We got runners on base and moved them pretty well.

“It gave our team a little bit of a boost over previous conference meetings.”

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