Hawkeyes top Panthers 10-1 in five innings

BY CODY GOODWIN | APRIL 26, 2013 5:00 AM

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CEDAR FALLS — The first three innings of Thursday’s softball game between Iowa and Northern Iowa mirrored much of what the Hawkeyes were hoping to fix.

The Black and Gold managed a 1-0 lead through three frames — thanks to Kayla Massey’s eighth home run of the season in the second-inning — but the Hawkeyes left five runners stranded. This did not please head coach Marla Looper. She previously talked about her team trying to do too much lately when simple contact and easy hits were the answer.

The contact and hits — and even runs — came in abundance in the next two innings, and Iowa jumped all over the Panthers to escape Robinson-Dresser Field with a 10-1 victory in five innings of play.

“Early on, people were trying to do too much. I saw big swings, heads flying out, and when that’s happening, they’re trying to do too much,” Looper said. “As the game went on, they did a better job of keeping it simple. See ball, hit ball.”

Iowa turned on the offensive jets in the later two innings. Facing two outs in the top of the fourth, Bradi Wall, Megan Blank, and Michelle Zoeller each drove in a run in consecutive at-bats, pushing Iowa’s lead to 4-0 at the time.

In the fifth-inning, 11 Iowa batters came to the plate, with six circling back around to score. The Hawkeyes extended their lead to 6-1 before the Panthers recorded an out, UNI plated its 1 run in the bottom of the fourth-inning thanks to a double by third basemen Haley Kriener that sent center fielder Melissa Walls home from first.

Northern Iowa collected two-straight pop-outs against Wall and Blank before Zoeller managed her second double of the afternoon that cleared the bases, extending Iowa’s lead to 8-1. The final 2 runs scored before the inning’s end, punctuating just Iowa’s fourth victory on Iowa soil this season.

“We were really just focusing on seeing the ball and driving it,” said Wall, who collected two of Iowa’s 15 hits. “We didn’t want to do too much with it and tried not to swing out of our shoes.”

Massey’s home run wasn’t the junior’s only highlight. As a pitcher, she faced only 18 batters, collecting 4 strikeouts and allowing just 4 hits. At one point, the Foothill Ranch, Calif., native retired nine-straight batters between the first and fourth innings.

Massey’s efficient execution was good enough for her 14th win of the year and allowed Iowa to wrap up the mercy-rule victory in just 91 minutes of play. It was a victory that was both needed — it snapped a six-game losing streak — and well-received by the Hawkeyes.

“We definitely need that game to finally get another win under our belt,” said Zoeller, who knocked in 3 of the 10 runs. “It reminded ourselves that we are the great team that we know we are. I think we kind of lost that [thought] for a second.”

Returning to Pearl Field for the weekend

Iowa will now head roughly 91 miles back down I-380 to Pearl Field for a three-game weekend series against Penn State. This could spell disaster for the Hawkeyes, who have been a staggering 2-9 at home this season.

The good news for the Black and Gold is that they’ll play one of the Big Ten’s bottom feeders in the Nittany Lions, who are just 2-14 in conference play this season, 11-30 overall.

Overlooking is not an option for Looper’s squad, though. These next three conference games against the Blue and White are crucial, both in terms of Big Ten standings, and for the sake of winning at home — Iowa has just four games remaining at Pearl Field this season, three of which are this weekend.

“There are some things we need to get better at,” Looper said. “But those positive things will be great to have heading into [today].”

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