Hawkeyes seeing a heavy dose of Starkenburg as postseason approaches

BY CHARLIE GREEN | MAY 04, 2015 5:00 AM

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Iowa’s weekend series with Northwestern showcased a theme becoming ever more visible with each passing game — the Hawks cannot win without Shayla Starkenburg in the circle.

As the team heads into the postseason, beginning Thursday, it may have little choice but to ride the redshirt sophomore’s right arm through the remainder of its games.

“I don’t know if I can look [that far] down the way,” head coach Marla Looper said. “We got to go with it Game 1. That’s the definitely the horse we road into town on, and that’s where we’re gonna ride out of town on.”

Starkenburg’s performance against the Wildcats displayed her importance to the team. On May 1, she gave up just 4 hits to one of the conference’s top-hitting teams. Iowa lost the game, 1-0.

But the May 2 contest was even more telling. Struggling freshman Ashley Yoways got shelled for 8 earned runs in just three innings and took her 16th loss of the season. The Indiana native has not won since Feb. 27 against Long Island-Brooklyn.

After junior transfer Jillian Navarrete failed to record an out in relief of Yoways, the Hawks looked to their ace to bail them out.

Starkenburg struck out 4 and gave up 3 more runs in the final four innings, unable to stop the bleeding as the Hawks fell, 11-6.

On Sunday, Looper wasn’t messing around — Starkenburg started in the circle and pitched her second complete game of the series.

She allowed 5 earned runs on 8 hits in seven innings of work. If it weren’t for a couple of misplayed balls in the field, two plays that brought in runs and counted as hits on the scorecard, the game would not have been as close as it was.

But the Hawks pulled it out, 8-6, behind Starkenburg and two home runs from freshman Allie Wood. In the second half of the season, Starkenburg has come into her own, exerting more control over pitches and keeping them low in the zone.

That way, she keeps balls on the ground and allows her infield to make more high-percentage outs.
Starkenburg gives the Hawkeyes composure and consistency to give them a shot in any game, and she’s poised to carry the load if her name is called.

“I think the season and all the games and innings I’ve thrown have prepared me if I get the opportunity to do that,” Starkenburg said.

Entering Sunday’s victory she stood at second in the Big Ten in innings pitched with 222. Over the course of the three days of action with Northwestern, she threw 343 pitches.

Heading into a win-or-go-home scenario at the Big Ten Tournament, the team may have little choice but to have her exclusively in the circle from here on out.

“When Shayla’s on, I think the team is on,” junior catcher Holly Hoffman said. “Even on the days on which she isn’t reaching her max speed, she’s using her movement more, and that’s really helping her out.”

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

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