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Iowa softball struggling through growing pains

BY CHARLIE GREEN | MARCH 26, 2015 5:00 AM

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If Iowa’s first five games of Big Ten competition have shown anything, it’s that the young Hawkeyes have a long way to go.

After two losses to Nebraska on Wednesday (12-2 in the early game and 16-7 in the second), the team fell to 10-24 overall and 1-4 in conference action. With seven freshmen and five sophomores on the roster, inexperience has been its biggest hurdle of 2015.

Head coach Marla Looper, however, doesn’t see it as a disadvantage.

“Youth is an excuse,” Looper said. “They’re not young anymore, I don’t think it has anything to do with youth.”

The team has been mercy-ruled ten times in its first 34 games — the first game of Wednesday’s double-header with Nebraska being the latest.

It is noteworthy that Nebraska is simply a better team across the board. As a team, it came in batting .350 compared to .261 for the Hawkeyes. Their pitching staff held a 5.44 ERA against Iowa’s 6.94.

They have nine players that entered the games batting over .300 — with Kiki Stokes, MJ Knighten, and Cassie McClure over the .400 mark.

Yet, Nebraska came into Wednesday’s action 0-6 on the road. The Huskers have hit the ball extremely well all season, but were still just 15-12 to show for it because of their struggles away from Lincoln.

Iowa couldn’t capitalize; Nebraska improved to 5-0 in the Big Ten.

The Hawks have, so far, been outplayed in all facets of the game this season. Their opponents are beating them in nearly every hitting category.

But it’s been the mental mistakes that have crippled them.

In game one, after freshman Sarah Kurtz’s error in the sixth, she unsuccessfully tried to tag out a runner at third — it was scored as a fielder’s choice — on a simple grounder that loaded the bases, and Nebraska went on score five runs in the.

In the bottom of the fifth game two, sophomore Alyssa Navarro made a critical base running error, getting tagged out at third rather than staying on second after the Huskers botched a grounder. That out allowed Nebraska to escape the inning and strand a runner in scoring position.

Freshman Ashley Yoways and junior transfer Jillian Navarette carried the pitching load on Wednesday, but stood no chance against Nebraska’s stellar lineup — giving up a combined 34 hits and 28 runs.

The lack of offensive production continues to be an issue an issue. Nebraska ace Emily Lockman came into the first game with 121 hits allowed in 79 innings pitched. The Hawks mustered just four in six innings, and struck out five times in the contest.

After game one, the Hawkeyes hit a bad milestone —100 fewer runs than their opponents on the season.

The second-game felt like a forgone conclusion, and to Iowa’s credit, it did not go easily. But they were outmatched, and a solid offensive outing (seven runs on 11 hits) was no match for the Huskers’ offensive firepower.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, there just aren’t a lot of veterans to keep the team afloat hill the youngsters progress.

The team has just one senior in shortstop Megan Blank, who came into the Nebraska double-header batting .424.

“There is a bit of a learning curve jumping from high school or travel ball to college,” Blank said.

“But I’ve liked what I’ve seen the last week or so, a lot of the younger girls are starting to step up and produce and we need that from top to bottom.”

The lack of leadership and experience has the team on pace for a disastrous season, and there may be little they can do but ride it out.

In five games of conference play, the Hawks have been outhit 67-45 and outscored 66-27.

“We don’t really count age as much; we don’t really take that into perspective,” freshman Allie Wood said. “I just think that we need to come together as a team more.”

Follow @JordyHansen on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa softball team.


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