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Through the first 38 games of its season, a stagnant offensive attack hampered Iowa softball — the team lost 10 games by the mercy rule in that span.

It culminated in a 1-0 loss to Drake on April 1 — a game in which sophomore pitcher Shayla Starkenburg’s 1-hitter went for naught.

“I think it was a little bit of a wake-up call,” head coach Marla Looper said after Iowa’s 5-4 loss to Iowa State on Wednesday. “After that they realized what we needed to do as an offense — and that was relax. And since then they’ve done just that.”

The game epitomized a team that had been struggling to get runners across the plate all season — even with the pitching as effective as possible, they still could not pull through.

But now, in the heat of Big Ten play, things appear to be heading in the right direction for Hawkeye batters.

They’ve surpassed 7 runs in five of the last eight games since the Drake contest, something they did just seven times all year going into the stretch. They are averaging 8 runs per game since then as well, compared with a lowly average of 3.34 before.

The relatively small sample size brings the season average to 4.40, which ranks just 13th in the Big Ten.

But sophomore Kaitlyn Mullarkey and junior Holly Hoffman represent signs of encouragement in giving the team a much-needed boost with their bats; the pair’s recent ascension doubles the squad’s number of .300 hitters.

Hoffman’s average has climbed to .302 since the Drake game. As for Mullarkey, the first baseman has reclaimed a prominent role after missing time to injury and re-proving her value to her coach.

“She’s just more consistent,” Looper said. “That’s all we ask of anyone, is just come out and give it everything you have in practice. Be consistent, and opportunities are going to be there.”

Mullarkey, who recorded her first career triple Wednesday night in the loss against Iowa State, looks like she’s turning into a valuable complement to stalwarts Megan Blank and Sammi Gyerman, who have carried the offense on their backs all season.

Looper has turned to the sophomore co-captain as her go-to first baseman. She still has fewer than half the at bats as Gyerman and Blank but owns the team’s second-best on-base percentage at .447 — a sign that her increased playing time is not likely to end anytime soon.

And the Hawks are not standing pat; the ceiling for this lineup has yet to be reached.

The Hawks’ batting average has jumped from .257 after the Drake loss to .277 after the loss to the Cyclones. The team’s on-base percentage went up from .329 to .357 as well.

Both of those numbers still rank last in the conference but are nonetheless major improvements — ones that provide vital compensation for the team’s conference-high ERA of 7.08.

“They’ve allowed us to stay in ball games even when we’ve given up some runs,” Looper said. “We’re scoring from top to bottom. We’re producing top to bottom. And I think that’s going to bode well for the next few conference series.”

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

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