Freshman pitcher Whitney performs well in rare outing at Pearl Field

BY CODY GOODWIN | APRIL 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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Four miserable outs of pitching by Kayla Massey forced Iowa softball coach Marla Looper to hand the pitching duties to an inexperienced freshman.

The Hawkeyes dug themselves a steep hole in the second inning during Tuesday’s first game against Illinois. Massey surrendered 8 runs to the Illini in just 1⅓ innings pitched, prompting Looper to send Micaela Whitney to the circle for just her 13th appearance of the season.

The freshman didn’t shy away from the challenge. Whitney shut down Illinois for the remaining 5⅔ innings of Tuesday’s early game to the tune of allowing 3 hits and 0 runs, while striking out six batters.

“I came in focused, and I had a plan,” Whitney said. “That’s kind of a lot of what my role on the team has been this year, is coming in for relief. I just wanted to help my team out.”

Whitney had only pitched 25⅔ innings of college softball before Tuesday’s appearance, playing in just 12 games — and only one as a starter. She had a 3-0 record but had surrendered 12 earned runs while collecting just 17 strikeouts.

All of those stats were tossed aside when Looper called upon Whitney Tuesday evening. The native of Omaha kept her poise and controlled nearly all of her 93 pitches, 60 of which were strikes. There was a stretch in which she retired 12 of 14 batters between the second and sixth innings.

This performance was not a surprise to her head coach.

“[Micaela] came in and shut them down,” Looper said. “She made them really work hard to just try to put a ball in play … When you get hot in the circle, you just go until your fire burns out.”

Whitney’s appearance in a game that ended up in Illinois’ favor — an 8-5 victory for the Orange and Navy Blue — excited her teammates.

Whitney is a more vocal pitcher in the circle than Massey and Chelsea Lyon, who regularly pitch for Iowa. Talking more with the defense allows her to think through pitches more thoroughly and to relax while in high-pressure situations, she said.

Her voice also better connects her with the defense behind her, helping with that relaxation. It’s something the defense appreciates as well.

“When she gets in the circle, you can see it in her eyes, she’s ready to take down every batter she faces,” shortstop Megan Blank said. “It’s a different look. It’s exciting to see, especially from a freshman.”

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