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Chemistry lessons in softball

BY JORDAN HANSEN | APRIL 01, 2015 5:00 AM

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As far as relationships on the softball field go, the bond between a catcher and a pitcher is perhaps the most important on the team.

This season, the Hawkeyes returned a solid catcher in redshirt junior Holly Hoffman, who, including this season, has started 124 games in her Iowa career.

Having such an experienced catcher is a major boon for Iowa. She caught for one of the better pitchers in recent Iowa memory — 2014 senior Kayla Massey — and has tried to give some of that experience to this year’s No. 1, Shayla Starkenburg.

“When I’m catching Shayla, each pitch I try to give her feedback,” Hoffman said. “If she hangs one out, I say, ‘Hey, try to get a little more bite on it, or a little more off the plate, you just missed this spot right here.’ Or if it’s a great pitch, I let her know that.

“We work together a lot in practice, and there’s a lot of communication, and I think that’s why we have had the success that we have had.”

While Starkenburg has struggled at points this season — entering Wednesday’s contest with Drake, she has a 5.11 ERA and sat out a week to make some “adjustments,” head coach Marla Looper said — Hoffman still feels that there are a lot of similarities between her game and Massey’s.

“As far as approach goes, their approach to the game is very similar,” Hoffman said. “They want to go right at batters and attack batters. We try not to pitch around people. As far as their pitches go, however, they differ.

“I’ve taken time to get to know my pitchers and what they throw strongly, where their weaknesses are.”

Recently, however, it looks as if she has taken palpable steps forward. After he week off, she got two shots at No. 4 Michigan in Ann Arbor the past weekend.

She went 1-1 with an ERA of 4.84 and recorded 10 strikeouts in those two games. That’s right with her season average in strikeouts and a slight improvement on her season ERA. Not gaudy numbers by any means, but it was noticeable improvement against a top-5 team in the country — something Starkenburg credits in part to Hoffman’s experiences.

“I think she’s taken a lot of things from Kayla to help me,” Starkenburg said. “But Kayla and I are very different pitchers and throw different pitches, so I think it’s been a learning experience for Holly as well — we’ve been able to help each other out with that, too.”

As the pitchers and catchers have gotten more comfortable as the season has gone on, Looper also feels that better in-game feedback has been a major positive for the team.

“I think Holly and all of our catchers in general have been more honest with our pitchers, not saying ‘Great pitch, great pitch’ when its not,” Looper said. “Honesty across the board has been huge for the development of all our pitchers.”

For a relatively young team, that communication should only improve the team as the Hawkeyes move toward the back part of their season.

There’s also a good deal of confidence in Starkenburg and with five games coming up in the next five days, she’ll have plenty of opportunity to prove just that.

“I think she’s definitely fine-tuned some of her pitches, and she has built up a lot of confidence,” Hoffman said. “That’s why she had the success against Michigan, and it’s something I think she can keep doing.”

Follow @JordyHansen for news, updates, and analysis of the Iowa softball team.


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