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Blank, Starkenburg lead Hawks over Wisconsin

BY CHARLIE GREEN | APRIL 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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It took a couple of big plays from senior Megan Blank to seal the deal, but Iowa softball narrowly escaped Madison, Wisconsin, with a 3-2 Sunday afternoon victory over the Badgers.

“Megan there at the end was due for something,” head coach Marla Looper said. “She had been trying a little too hard at times and trying to put the team on her shoulders.

“She finally relaxed … I knew something was going to happen.”

Blank blasted her seventh home run of the season in the top of the 10th inning in what would ultimately be the difference in the game. She went 5-of-11 with 3 RBIs in the series.

But the Hawks still three more outs to close it out.

In the bottom half of the inning, the Badgers had runners on second and third base with two outs. Blank fielded a chopping grounder and wisely tagged out the runner attempting to advance from second to third, sealing the Badgers’ fate.

The victory gave Iowa its first series win in Big Ten play this season. They improved to 5-9 in the league, 14-31 overall, and Wisconsin fell to 2-9 in the conference, 17-22 overall.

Sophomore Shayla Starkenburg struck out a career-high 11 batters in 10 solid innings of work, getting early run support from sophomore Alyssa Navarro’s first career home run in the second inning to put the team up 1-0.

The defensive game grew more intense as the contest got into its latter stages.

Iowa carried a 2-1 lead into the bottom of seventh, only to see Wisconsin hit a leadoff triple.

Starkenburg struck out the next two batters, but the Badgers eventually got the tying run across the plate.

Starkenburg bounced back, however, notching another strikeout to send the game into extra innings.

The Hawks loaded the bases in the top of the eighth with one out, but the Badgers retired junior Holly Hoffman and sophomore Kaitlyn Mullarkey to escape without allowing any runs.

In similar fashion, Wisconsin loaded the bases with just one out before Starkenburg was able to get out of the jam, keeping the Hawks alive.

Iowa left two more runners on in the ninth before Blank’s offensive and defensive prowess carried the Hawks to victory in the 10th.

The Hawks entered the series finale tied at one game a piece with the Badgers. After a blowout 16-4 victory on April 10, the Badgers evened things up on April 11 with a 5-4 decision — walking off on a fielder’s choice in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Iowa was one walk-off loss away from sweeping the Badgers but nonetheless gained valuable ground in the Big Ten standings.

Both teams recorded 13 hits in the low-scoring game but struggled with leaving runners on base.

Wisconsin stranded 14 base runners, and Iowa stranded 18.

“It wasn’t always pretty; we left some opportunities on the bases,” Looper said. We didn’t always do what we needed to do, but we stuck to it. We just continued to grit and fight.”

Follow @CharlsGreen for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa softball team.


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